Boston Mayor Michelle Wu announced Wednesday a $20 million investment to the Boston’s Universal Pre-Kindergarten program that will bring more seats, more funding and, eventually, more providers to the city’s free early education system.

Much of that funding will allow the city to boost the number of seats for 3- and 4-year-olds at community-based pre-K providers, like YMCAs. The Wu administration said there will be up to 627 seats available for 4-year-olds and up to 365 seats for 3-year-olds at those community-based providers.

The expansion adds to the existing 2,500 Boston Public Schools–based seats for 4-year-olds without disabilities and 880 seats for 3- and 4-year olds with disabilities, bringing the total number of seats available in Boston’s mixed delivery UPK system to about 4,400. That figure remains a fraction of the approximately 34,000 children under the age of 5 in Boston, but Wu said she maintains a vision of a city where new parents expand their families without "a moment of worry" about where they might find affordable, high-quality early childcare.

Wu, who campaigned on revamping Boston Public Schools and implementing the city’s long-awaited goal of universal pre-K, said the investment would kickstart the effort to ensure all families in the city have access to free early child care and education.

“Nearly 400 years ago, Boston gathered together and the first six elementary school students at the Mather School were able to access a free education because the town of Dorchester collected a fee on cattle grazing that would then go to fund their new jewel of a school,” Wu said, referencing the nation’s oldest public elementary school.

“But in nearly 400 years, we are not there yet as a society in recognizing that in some ways the most important investments are from birth to age 5 before children can enter our public school system," she added. "That is what Boston is trying to change.”

Some of the $20 million, Wu said, will be used to fund a study of how to integrate family childcare providers — those who care for smaller groups of children in a residential building and typically offer more flexible hours, multilingual instruction, and/or mixed-age settings — into the city’s UPK system.

Over the next school year, “BPS and the Office of Early Childhood will partner with 20 family child care providers, members of the UPK Advisory Board, and other experts to design Boston’s family child care UPK program,” according to a press release. Each partnering provider will receive $9,500.

To make the case for the expansion, Wu pointed to the high cost of childcare in the state.

Massachusetts childcare costs are second only to the nation’s capital, according to the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington, D.C.–based nonprofit think tank. The organization estimates the average annual cost of infant care in Massachusetts is about $1,750 a month. The cost goes down to about $1,250 a month to care for 4-year-olds.

“So many families with young children are forced to make impossible, unacceptable choices between quality care during some of the most formative years of their kids’ lives, or making rent or buying groceries, or whether they can afford to stay in Boston at all,” Wu said speaking to reporters.

“What we know is that this challenge has gotten even more intense through the pandemic. The number of early education centers serving children under the age of five in Boston has fallen as the challenges of running our child care centers have become more intense…Geographically, too, this has exacerbated inequities and some of the neighborhoods with the greatest number of young children have seen the greatest decline in available pre-K and early education seats,” Wu said.

To combat the decline in early education centers, Wu announced a new funding formula that will reimburse early education and childcare providers on a per classroom basis rather than per pupil.

The change, administration officials say, factors in more of the true costs of operating a child care facility and will ensure that childcare centers, especially those that host multiple classrooms, are able to pay their early education teachers and core support staff competitive rates and assist with retention.

Additionally, Boston UPK will debut a new curriculum for 3-year-olds in the upcoming school year. The curriculum was developed through a collaboration between BPS, the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care, and the Early Childhood Support Organizations.

According to the mayor’s office, Boston UPK is now accepting applications for pre-K seats at community-based providers for the 2022-2023 school year on a rolling basis.

Eligible students must be Boston residents and must turn 3 or 4 years old on or before Sept. 1, 2022.