Cover: Cost Analysis of the South Carolina Child Early Reading and Development Education Program

Cost Analysis of the South Carolina Child Early Reading and Development Education Program

Published Mar 4, 2019

by Lynn A. Karoly, Celia J. Gomez

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Research Questions

  1. What are the "ingredients," in terms of personnel, facilities, educational materials, and other supplies, required to deliver CERDEP in public and private settings? What are the sources of potential variation in program costs?
  2. What is the estimated per-pupil cost of CERDEP? Does the per-pupil cost vary by key program features, such as public versus private settings, teacher qualifications, student enrollment, or geographic area?
  3. How does the per-pupil cost compare to the current per-pupil reimbursement rate for CERDEP providers?

The South Carolina Early Reading Development and Education Program (CERDEP) is a state-funded full-day four-year-old pre-kindergarten (4K) program for children at risk of not being ready to start kindergarten. Eligible children include those who live in districts with a score of 70 percent or higher on the state poverty index and whose family income is at or below 185 percent of the federal poverty guidelines or those eligible for Medicaid. The program is implemented using a mixed-delivery system, with both public schools and licensed private center–based providers able to serve eligible children.

Documenting and understanding the costs of CERDEP is necessary for education leaders in South Carolina to continue to deliver a high-quality 4K program. In the 2017–2018 school year, the focus of this report, the state reimbursed CERDEP providers $4,422 per pupil to cover the costs of instruction for a traditional 180-day school year, with 6.5 hours of instruction per day. Research indicates that the full cost of early childhood programs like CERDEP can be challenging and costly to estimate. States and early childhood leaders do not always know the true program costs when funding policies and mechanisms, such as per-pupil reimbursement rates, are put in place.

This report addresses the per-pupil cost to deliver CERDEP as of the 2017–2018 academic year and compares those estimates with the current instructional reimbursement rate provided by the state.

Key Findings

  • The delivery of CERDEP requires expenditures related to personnel, classroom supplies and other instructional supports, food service, transportation, occupancy, and administrative costs.
  • Differences in per-pupil costs arise because of variation in staff compensation, unit prices for other resources across geographic locales, lead teacher qualifications, and class size, among other factors.
  • Based on our baseline cost model, the estimated all-inclusive annual per-pupil cost for the traditional CERDEP option (180-day school year at 6.5 hours per day, 20 pupils per classroom, state median salaries and benefits), when delivered at a site operated by a public school district, with transportation costs and rent, was about $11,000 in 2017 dollars (or just over $10,000 per pupil if there are no rental costs for the public site).
  • The estimated per-pupil cost was almost identical for a private center-based program, with the same program features (including teacher qualifications) and parity with public school salaries and fringe benefits. When the private program is assumed to pay the lower wages and benefits consistent with other private child care programs, the estimated per-pupil cost falls to about $7,000. The $4,000 per pupil difference is entirely attributable to the public-private compensation differential.
  • The per-pupil reimbursement rate across the scenarios examined in this report falls short by as much as 50 percent of the estimated CERDEP per-pupil cost. The same is true for the hourly and daily reimbursement rates that apply for extended-day or extended-year options.


  • Convene CERDEP stakeholders to recognize the variation in CERDEP costs and identify options for an adequate and equitable reimbursement policy.
  • Conduct an analysis of the effects of changes in the reimbursement mechanism on the funding required with no change in enrollment.
  • Provide technical assistance to CERDEP providers to ensure they access other sources of funding to cover their costs.
  • Collect information on provider costs and refine model-based cost estimates to support the redesign of reimbursement policy.
  • Review alignment between CERDEP's reimbursement rates and those for other publicly funded early childhood programs in the state.

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was sponsored by the South Carolina Education Oversight Committee and conducted by RAND Education and Labor.

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