In 2010, China embarked on an ambitious goal to expand early childhood education (ECE) nationwide. An integral part of this plan was to substantially expand public institutions, particularly in rural areas. Using longitudinal finance data from a western province in China, we examine the development of ECE from 2008 to 2013. Our findings suggest that the increased investment from the government and parents anchored a rapidly-expanding public ECE sector, but this strategy became more of an extension of the existing formula, rather than a component in solving structural issues. It has kept ECE institutions under-funded compared to primary and lower secondary education, fostering other systemic issues. ECE teachers were under-compensated, and public institutions had high pupil-to-staff ratios. Public financial support only constituted less than 30% of the total investment in ECE, with most ECE institutions relying on out-of-budgetary sources such as fees and levies. This financing scheme has resulted in large inter-institutional disparity. We conclude that in order to achieve sustainable high-quality ECE in the next developmental stage, a change in the financing structure is necessary.