Wonderschool’s online platform looks like an Airbnb for pre-K. But the San Francisco company also provides a series of services — with the goal of making it easier for people to create a preschool in their own home. The company helps with credentialing, setting up programs, launching websites and boosting enrollment.
The startup recently received $20 million in venture capital funding. They now have more than 140 partner centers in New York and California. Wonderschool’s business model works because licensing requirements for in-home preschools are often less strict than center-based ones.
For example, to open an in-home program in California, you don’t need much more than vaccines and to pass a background test. To work at a center, you need months of early childhood education. And studies show kids who attend centers do better at math and reading in elementary school.
But Wonderschool says it's providing more than the government does.
Chris Bennett, Wonderschool’s CEO, told VICE News it offers mentoring and training for directors and visits locations for quality checks. He once removed a school because it received bad parent reviews.
But some experts aren’t convinced. Deborah Stipek, a professor at Stanford and the former dean of its school of education, said Wonderschool doesn't solve the problem of lowering pre-K costs.
"First of all, because it's private and so it's only accessible by people who have a fair amount of money,” Stipek said. “So it doesn't address the affordability issue. To the degree that it supports people in creating home care programs, it might facilitate that so you might get a few people going into it who wouldn't have otherwise.”
This segment originally aired January 3, 2019, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.