Mayor Wu announces $20 million investment to expand universal pre-K

The city will focus on community-based classrooms, more seats for toddlers, and integrating family child care providers into the UPK system. 

Mayor Michelle Wu is greeted by a group of 4- and 5-year-olds following a press conference at the Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center on Wednesday. Craig F. Walker/Boston Globe

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu announced Wednesday that the city would invest $20 million in early education through the Universal Pre-K (UPK) program. With this money, the city aims to increase support for community-based classrooms, add more seats for three and four-year-olds, and integrate family child care providers into the UPK system. 

This is the second year in a row that Boston UPK will increase the number of seats open to three and four-year-olds at community-based providers. The program will now offer as many as 992 seats, with up to 627 seats allotted for four-year-olds and 365 seats for three-year-olds. 

Wu, who made the announcement outside Acorn Child Care Center in Chinatown, said this is just the next step towards providing free child care citywide. 


“The greatest investment we can make in our future is to support and center our young people,” Wu said in a statement. “With this historic investment in early childhood education, we can kickstart an increase in high-quality Pre-K seats, bring family child care providers into the UPK network, and ensure all of our families have access to free and accessible early child care and education.”

The investment will not just expand access to the city’s UPK program, it will also help students within the program succeed, Wu’s office said in a release. This money will let Boston increase developmental and behavioral health screenings, student support interventions, and coaching aimed at improving classroom quality. 

The money, which is being drawn from the Boston Public Schools budget and the city’s Quality Pre-K Fund, will additionally pay for training and technical help in child care centers, according to The Boston Globe. It should also open up opportunities for classroom staff to gain salary increases. 

“UPK makes it possible to pay excellent teachers a competitive salary, have regular, supportive coaching, and invest in our classrooms continually,” Lauren Cook, Chief Executive Officer at Ellis Early Learning, said in a statement. “Our teachers appreciate the high-quality curriculum and are proud to be part of the UPK community. Our students are thriving, and parents are thrilled with our partnership with BPS. Our UPK classrooms set the bar internally and elevate our organization. We couldn’t be happier or more grateful to partner with BPS in this vital work.” 


Family child care providers, which provide services in a residential setting, will now be allowed to join the UPK system. This option can benefit families by providing more flexible hours, as well as multilingual and mixed-age settings. City officials will work over the course of the next school year to iron out the details of Boston’s family child care UPK program, partnering with 20 family child care providers. 

Finally, Wu announced changes to the funding formula that determines city aid. Funding will now be distributed per-classroom, replacing a per-student formula. The goal, according to a release from Wu’s office, is to ensure financial stability for child care providers. In turn, this would allow them to focus on adding high quality programming and ensuring teachers at community providers receive pay commensurate with staff at district-run schools. 

“Providing per-classroom instead of per-child funding will provide stability for child care providers who have been greatly impacted by COVID,” Kristin McSwain, Director of the Office of Early Childhood, said in a statement. “It will also allow many of them to extend their service hours beyond the required 6.5 to better meet the needs of working families.”


The Office of Early Childhood was unveiled by Wu in February. At the time, city officials said that one of the priorities for the new department was to improve universal pre-kindergarten, according to the Globe. A centralized city office devoted to affordable child care was initially promised by Wu during her mayoral campaign.

Free, high-quality pre-K was also promised by former Mayor Marty Walsh when he ran in 2013. As he left office in 2021, however, the city only provided enough seats for just over half of Boston’s four-year-olds, the Globe reported. Boston is one of the country’s most expensive child care markets, and low-income families are often left with limited options. 

Residents can now apply for Boston UPK at community-based providers for the upcoming school year on a rolling basis. Eligible students must turn three or four on or before Sept. 1. More information can be found at


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