Early Education and Kindergarten
There is some public funding for daycare, preschool and pre-kindergarten in New Hampshire, though much of this is restricted to lower-income or special needs children. Public funds are made available for kindergarten, though there continues to be debate over curriculum and whether individual districts may continue to offer half-day programs, instead of full-day kindergarten.
Child care centers in New Hampshire have to be licensed by the state, unless they take place within the provider’s home and involve caring for no more than three children who aren’t part of the family.
The state Child Care Licensing Unit sets health and safety rules that all licensed facilities have to follow. These cover everything from facility heating to sunscreen and sleep routines. There are also rules for who can work at daycare centers, and staff-to-child ratios that vary by age level.
Daycare curriculum and standards
In New Hampshire, there is no required curriculum or state standards for licensed daycares. The state does provide recommended early learning standards, which centers may opt to use as guidelines for what to teach.
In some other states, centers are required to use a state-approved curriculum or to implement state early education standards.
Child care in New Hampshire can be very expensive. For example, daycare rates for infants average around $984 per month.
New Hampshire does offer some help to low income parents to help them pay for the costs of child care. These are funded with a combination of state and federal money. In order to be eligible, parents must be actively working, training, or looking for work. In the past, need for these scholarships has exceeded funding, leading to a waitlist.
There are also nonprofit programs that serve to expand access to high-quality early childhood education using a combination of both public and private funds. These include daycare centers that offer tuition on a sliding fee scale.
Private support for early childhood education is largely dwarfed by public funds. For example, the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation awarded roughly $575,000 in grants related to early childhood education 2015, while Early Learning NH reported just over $724,000 in expenses that same year. In contrast, the state’s Child Development Bureau received $21 million in federal dollars and around $10 million in state dollars in 2015.
Families seeking help with finding affordable daycare or other forms of support should contact their nearest family resource center.
Preschool and pre-kindergarten
There is no general state funding for preschool or pre-kindergarten in New Hampshire. The state also makes no formal distinction between preschool/pre-K and daycare for the purposes of licensing, curriculum, and standards.
However, individual school districts may choose to provide some public preschool or pre-K if they choose. Several districts in New Hampshire have opted to do so. These programs must be funded through local taxes or federal funds (such as Head Start or the Child Care and Development Block Grant).
Eligibility for these programs can vary from town to town, but often guarantees space for any children with special needs, making other spaces available to normally-developing children who serve as peer models. The programs may be free or tuition may be charged, though this is generally at far lower rates than those paid for private preschool or pre-K programs.
Preschool and pre-K funding in other states
Forty-four states — but not New Hampshire — offer some form of state-funded pre-K for four year-olds.
In most of these states, only some children are eligible, such as low-income children or those with special needs. Only three states offer pre-K to all resident four year-olds.
These programs don’t necessarily take place in public schools, but can be delivered through partnerships with child care centers or Head Start providers. They also may not be full-time. Some states will pay for up to ten hours per week, for example, with parents picking up the tab for any additional coverage.
All school districts in New Hampshire are required to offer at least part-time kindergarten to all resident children aged five and up. Attendance is not mandatory. Parents can opt not to send their children to kindergarten if they choose.
Up until 2018, New Hampshire only paid for “half-day” kindergarten: that is, they gave schools only half the per-pupil rate for kindergarten students, even if the district offered a full-day kindergarten program. This changed when the Legislature approved using proceeds from keno lottery ticket sales to pay the full per-pupil rate for full-day kindergarten students. Keno revenues didn't quite meet expectations, prompting a move in 2019 to fund full-day kindergarten just like other grades. That ended up passing as part of the 2020-2021 state budget.
Many states require schools to offer full-day kindergarten programs. Others require all children aged 5 and up to attend kindergarten, whether part time or full day.
Kindergarten readiness assessments
In many states, schools are required to assess students entering kindergarten to determine if they have special needs. Several of those assessments also measure children’s social and emotional development.
There is currently no required assessment for children entering kindergarten in New Hampshire. However, the state does publish a set of Kindergarten Readiness Indicators. These are voluntary guidelines that child care providers or parents can use to help make sure children are ready to enter kindergarten.
Kindergarten curriculum standards
New Hampshire curriculum rules treat kindergarten the same as any other grade. That means schools offering kindergarten must implement a set of academic standards that meet certain state requirements.
There are no federal rules requiring states to offer all residents access to kindergarten, pre-K or preschool programs.
Federal action on early childhood education is largely limited to providing free or reduced-cost care for lower income or special needs children through Head Start or the Child Care and Development Block Grant.
“NH should increase state involvement in kindergarten and early education.”
- Studies show that access to quality early education helps reduce the academic achievement gap between high and low-income children.
- Access to high-quality early education for children from disadvantaged homes has been linked to greater worker productivity down the road, lower crime rates, and less need for remedial education. This makes funding early education, to ensure that all families can access it, a smart investment.
- A more formal kindergarten readiness assessment would push child care providers and parents to make sure their children acquired the skills they needed to succeed in kindergarten. The assessment could also help ensure that kids with special needs don’t ‘fall through the cracks’.
- A state early education curriculum would increase accountability and help ensure that kids are achieving important skills and milestones. For example, a curriculum could ensure that children are exposed to STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) concepts from an early age.
- Lower student-to-teacher ratios in daycares would ensure better care for children. The majority of studies of the impact of student-to-teacher ratios in the classroom support this, and raising student-to-teacher ratios could compromise not just academic outcomes but children’s safety and well-being.
“NH should not increase state involvement in kindergarten and early education.”
- Research shows the academic ‘boost’ children from disadvantaged homes get from high-quality early education largely recedes during elementary school. The state should not invest more funding into programs that have only a temporary impact on closing the gap in academic achievement.
- A state early childhood curriculum could cause centers to place too much emphasis on academics, instead of giving children ample time to play. Studies have shown that free play provides important social and cognitive benefits for young children.
- Because there’s a shortage of workers in New Hampshire, businesses could be encouraged to help subsidize early education in order to make it more affordable for workers with young children. Programs such as a tax credit for donations to daycare construction or other expenses would support early education without burdening taxpayers the way direct state funding would.
- Decisions about education standards and guidelines for younger children are best left to local authorities, who are better positioned to know the needs of families in their community.
- Pushing forward the age at which children are expected to be in a school-like environment encourages parents to send them out of the home at a time when they should be spending more time with their families.