Paying for early care and education
The cost of early care and education varies by the type of care and setting, but it can be very expensive for families.
Across California and in San Francisco, there are programs to help make quality early care and education affordable for families. Depending on income and care needs, families can be eligible to get help to partially or fully pay for early care and education. Participation requirements and processes vary across programs.
There are two local programs to help families with paying for early care and education:
- Preschool for All Tuition Credit Program (PFA): Open to all families regardless of income
- Early Learning San Francisco (ELS): Open to families based on income requirements
Contact one of our resource and referral agencies for help, or find information on local, state, and federal programs below:
Federal and State Funding
Head Start (for children ages 3 and 4) and Early Head Start (for children birth to age 3) programs are free for eligible families. Learn more on the Head Start website, or contact one of San Francisco’s Head Start and Early Head Start agencies to apply:
State Preschool and General Child Care
California State Preschool and General Child Care programs are free or offered at minimal cost to eligible families. Learn more by contacting the agencies below.
Families receiving assistance through CalWORKs may also qualify for free or low-cost child care.
Early Learning San Francisco
The Early Learning San Francisco program provides financial assistance to pay for quality early care and education to eligible San Francisco families with children 0-5 years old.
More than 320 Early Care and Education Centers and Family Child Care Homes across San Francisco have been qualified to participate in ELS. Participating programs prioritize quality and continuity of care for children. You can find a complete list of ELS qualified providers here.
ELS Eligibility and Application
Parents can use the online tool Early Learning SF to find out if they are eligible and to apply for the Early Learning San Francisco program. Or contact one of our partners, Children’s Council or Wu Yee, to apply:
Children’s Council of San Francisco
Wu Yee Children’s Services
PFA Tuition Credit
The Preschool for All Tuition Credit (PFA) program helps provide universal access to preschool to all 4-year-olds in San Francisco. PFA is open to all families regardless of need or income. Families may receive a tuition credit of up to $4,440 annually for:
- Reduced-cost or free half-day preschool (depending on the setting, Center or FCC) for up to 3.5 hours a day
- As a tuition rebate to help reduce full-day preschool costs
Participating families will need to pay the difference between the full cost of tuition and the tuition credit they receive, and must use the tuition credit at a participating preschool. You can find a complete list of participating preschools by visiting our ELS/PFA providers page and finding those programs with a “Yes” under the PFA-Eligible column.
PFA Eligibility and Application
To be eligible for PFA, families must live in San Francisco and children must turn 4 on or before December 2nd of the school year they will be enrolled (i.e. a 3-year old who enrolls in September will be eligible if they turn 4 by December 2nd). While the program is not designed for kindergarten-aged children, exceptions are made for children with documented special needs or who require an extra year of preschool.
The program is offered at preschools that partner with OECE. Parents/guardians should apply directly with their preschool of interest.
Please note that participating PFA preschools have limited slots. It is recommended that you find a school, apply, and enroll when your child is still 3 for the best chances of obtaining a spot. The preschool will let you know if they have open tuition credit slots and can tell you about their tuition rates. The preschool’s administrative staff will guide you through the PFA enrollment process – they’ll handle the paperwork.
You can find a complete list of participating preschools by visiting our ELS/PFA providers page and finding those programs with a “Yes” under the PFA-Eligible column.
Additionally, San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) offers PFA at many of their preschool sites. For more information on PFA at SFUSD sites, please visit the SFUSD website or contact:
Early Education Enrollment Office – Civic Center
555 Franklin Street, Room 100,
San Francisco, CA 94102
Early Education Enrollment Office – Bayview
1520 Oakdale Avenue, Room 30,
San Francisco, CA 94124