Paying for early childhood education

Daycare/ child care/early learning programs can cost a lot, sometimes even as much as rent or your mortgage! When you have young children, every penny counts. The more pennies you can save, the more you can spend on a quality program.


Pennsylvania has free programs for eligible families as well as financial help for child care. Here are some resources to help make ends meet:


Child Care Works (CCIS)

Child Care Works, sometimes called CCIS, provides financial help to families for daycare/ child care. To be eligible, you must:
  • Live in Pennsylvania
  • Have a child or children who need child care while you work or attend an education program
  • Meet income guidelines for your family size (generally, 200% of the federal poverty level)
  • Work 20 or more hours a week or work 10 hours and go to school or train for 10 hours a week
  • Have a promise of a job that will start within 30 days of your application for subsidized child care
  • (Teen parents) Attend an education program
  • Have proof of identification for each parent or caretaker in the home.


Additionally, the child who needs care must be a citizen of the United States or an alien lawfully admitted for permanent residency.  Find out if you are eligible.


Families may choose any child care program that accepts Child Care Works/CCIS or a relative/neighbor provider that has completed CareCheck and federal criminal history clearance. Families pay a co-pay based on their income, and Child Care Works/CCIS provides a subsidy to the child care program. Child care programs may charge fees that aren’t covered by Child Care Works/CCIS, so be sure to ask the program about any fees when you visit or call about space.


You can sign up online on the COMPASS website (where you can also sign up for programs like SNAP food stamps or LIHEAP energy assistance) or visit your local Child Care Information Services (CCIS) agency. Your CCIS can help you pick the right child care program for your family.

See also: Child Care Information Services of Philadelphia


Search for early childhood centers that accept subsidy.


Child care scholarships

Some child care programs have scholarships of their own. When you visit or call a program, ask if they have offer scholarships or financial assistance.


Home visiting family support programs free to families

Pennsylvania offers free help for pregnant moms, infants and toddlers at home. A home visitor helps families understand things like nutrition, child health and ways to help your child develop. Three of these programs are Early Head Start, Nurse-Family Partnership, and Parents as Teachers. Visit Pennsylvania’s Promise for Children’s Home Visiting page to learn more.

Pre-kindergarten programs free to families

Pennsylvania offers two pre-kindergarten programs at no cost to families:

Head Start services support both the child’s development and a healthy family.  Families earning up to 100% of poverty may apply. Click here to learn more about federal poverty guidelines. Contact your local Head Start agency to apply and/or search for centers with Head Start programs.


Pennsylvania Pre-K Counts provides free high quality pre-kindergarten. Full- and half-day classes are available in schools, Head Start, child care and nursery schools. Families earning up to 300% of poverty may apply. If your child is also learning English as a second language or has a disability, he/she may receive priority in enrollment. Learn more or search for Pre-K Counts programs.


Bright Futures is a School District designed Pre-K, school-readiness program that is part of the Pre-K Counts public/private partnership. The program is primarily funded by state Pre-K Counts funds and complies with all the requirements of that funding. The program is provided for free to families who meet eligibility requirements-- primarily that family income is at or below 300% of the federal poverty level. Find a Bright Futures program.


Pre-K EITC (Educational Improvement Tax Credit) scholarships

Through the Pre-K EITC program, companies donate money for pre-kindergarten scholarships in return for a tax credit. Contact the scholarship organizations in your area to find out what programs participate and how to apply for scholarships.


For More Information on other assistance programs to help pay for household and other expenses, visit Making Ends Meet from Pennsylvania’s Promise for Children. 



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