Preschool fees, charges and costs really add up for parents

Oct 10, 2008 at 12:07 a.m. ET

You've paid the tuition, bought the knapsack and lunch bag and shuttled your child off to preschool. But, for many, the costs of preschool doesn't end there. There are fees, hidden costs and surprise needs. How is a parent to manage these things?

Preschool Tuition
Did you sign up for the monthly payment plan with your preschool, thinking the spacing out of fees would help with budgeting? Or perhaps you paid up-front to avoid any mishaps with paying during the school year. Whatever the case, new preschool parents learn very quickly that the requests for more money just keep on coming.

Unexpected fees

It may have been a little breathtaking when you learned how much it would cost to send your child to preschool. But for many, the costs don't end there.

Writer Stacie Haight Connerty of Atlanta pulled her daughter out of a daycare when she found that the more than $12,000 per year in tuition fees wasn't enough for her center. The center charged fees for unwanted dinners, late fees when the center was closed and other miscellaneous costs that totaled more than $1,000 per year. "It makes me angry because we budget a certain amount. They nickel and dimed us to death so we left. So did many other parents. I tried to work something out and many times I questioned that they had no one available to take payment. The center director won't call people back and the workers tell us that she refuses to call any parent back when it is about money," Connerty said.

Under pressure

If the fees don't get to you, the strong pressure to help fund-raise or volunteer might. "There is heavy pressure during fundraising time (each parent is expected to sell 10 copies of a $20 book, for example). We are also asked for dollars to contribute to birthday gifts for teachers. Every parent at our preschool is expected to contribute 20 hours of volunteer time per year. If you don't get your volunteer time, then you pay $200," says Andrea Ballard of First Year of Childcare.

What if you can't afford the fees?

While you budgeted for the tuition, scrimping and saving, you may not have anticipated the fees and might not be able to afford them. What then?

Ballard suggest a bartering approach if the fees get to be too much. "Talk to the school about donating time in the classroom or volunteering to go on field trips, giving supplies or other classroom aids, or donating your service if the school needs it (computer consulting, equipment repair, etc.)."

At a private preschool in Austin, Texas, kids like Kimberly Strenk's kids have access to a variety of extra activities and classes like music and art. But if a parent can't afford it, those resources are off limits. "I'm in a fortunate situation that my kids (ages 5, 3 and 20 months) have access to both pre-school and activities. For one child, annual fees for activities exceed $900.00! If a parent can't afford these activities, the child does not get to participate – period," Strenk said.

A better solution?

Some would rather tuition fees be all inclusive. And, indeed, the transparency of all-inclusive tuitions sounds like a good idea.

"I would prefer to pay an extra $50+ a month so I don't have to deal with these costs. But, I suspect that preschools do this for the same reasons as airlines do with their ticket prices & extra fees ... when people are price shopping they don't want to appear to have the highest tuition, even though the monthly REAL costs are much higher," said Elizabeth Potts Weinstein of The Wealth Spa.

What do you think? Could an all-inclusive model work? Would parents balk at the price?

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