Photo: Alessandra Hartkopf for Strategies for Children

In most of Massachusetts, full-day kindergarten classes are a free part of what local public schools provide.

But as our past intern Cheyanne Nichter found when she researched the issue, there are 38 school districts in Massachusetts that have charged tuition for full-day kindergarten during the last few years. Nichter’s work helped us develop a fact sheet on full-day kindergarten tuition costs.

Kindergarten enrollment, as the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education explains, “is encouraged but not required in Massachusetts. All school districts are required to provide free half day kindergarten to families but many provide a full day option (either free or tuition based).”

Charging tuition for kindergarten creates a financial burden for parents and an inequitable situation since the amounts parents pay vary by district.

In Acton-Boxborough, for example, kindergarten tuition was $4,500 in the 2019-2020 school year. There was no kindergarten program in 2020-2021. And the tuition for the current 2021-2022 year is $3,750.

In Reading, the cost of kindergarten tuition has remained at $4,450 for the last three school years. And Walpole has charged $1,850 for the last three years.

As Nichter found, the pandemic forced districts to adjust in various ways:

• 8 districts that offered only a half day kindergarten option but were tuition free

• 12 districts either did not change, only slightly changed, or even increased tuition charges while having a remote/hybrid/in person mixed approach during 2020- 2021, and

• 8 districts did not have full day kindergarten during 2020-2021

This year, 26 districts are charging tuition, at an average cost of $3,312 for the school year. In addition, 12 districts that had charged tuition before the pandemic, no longer do – a welcome trend toward moving to free kindergarten.

Among the challenges for parents and guardians is that information can be hard to find. Not all districts openly publish their kindergarten fees on their websites. 

Encouraging all of Massachusetts’ districts to provide free, full-day kindergarten will take continued advocacy. In the communities where districts charge tuition, parents and local leaders often organize to study the issue, explore funding options, and propose changes. This was the case in Beverly, Mass., where the school committee voted to eliminate tuition in 2020.

Strategies for Children staff is available to help. If you have a question about kindergarten tuition, or ideas for local advocacy, contact deputy director Titus DosRemedios, tdosremedios@strategiesforchildren.org

Equal access to a free, high-quality kindergarten education, one that is developmentally appropriate and informed by the science of how young children learn, is an essential piece of the birth-through-eight early childhood continuum.