The parents were getting desperate. Their 4-year-old daughter--who had spent two years in family day care--was ready for the challenges of nursery school. Off went mom and dad in search of the perfect school, only to discover that, as the exasperated mother put it: "I should have registered her when she was in utero."
The reason for the family's dilemma: They live on the Westside.
"In the West L.A. area, it is a case of no matter how much money you have, there are just no openings," said Barbara Niles, referral program manager at Connections for Children, a Santa Monica resource and referral agency. "One school in Santa Monica even told us not to refer people--period. It's really crazy."
Getting into nursery school isn't what it used to be. But then, nursery school isn't what it used to be either.
Nursery school--or preschool (the terms are used interchangeably)--used to be mornings-only programs. But with so many mothers in the work force, most nursery schools now offer full-time child care with optional part-time programs.
With the exception of the Westside and South Bay areas, most child-care resource and referral agencies in Los Angeles County say parents who can afford the tuition will generally find space for their children, although not always at their first choice of schools. Parents who cannot afford tuition are in worse shape: Only a fraction of the children who qualify for subsidies receive them or find space in programs like Head Start.
"Nobody calls me about waiting lists for nursery schools," said Alma Lerner-Visser, director of the Child Care Information Service, the agency for communities in eastern Los Angeles County. "They call me about waiting lists for subsidies."
One nursery school administrator counsels parents to be patient, to be persistent and to tap into networks that can help: resource and referral agencies, church groups and the like.
Cost varies widely, but Andrea King, a consultant at the Child Care Resource Center in North Hollywood, said cooperative schools are generally the least expensive, because parents are expected to contribute time to classrooms, fund-raising and maintenance. Next on the list are programs sponsored by churches, temples or universities, because they are usually subsidized by the sponsoring institution. The most expensive nursery schools are usually associated with private schools that serve children through elementary or secondary grades.
Nursery-school rates can range from as much as $5,100 a year for half-days at a North Hollywood school that goes through the sixth grade to $1,200 for nine months for half-days at an Altadena co-op.