Right after the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States, early childhood education (ECE) advocates were dealing with the immediate crisis and, simultaneously, talking about what the global health crisis would mean for the future.
“We wanted to create a space for that conversation,” Albert Wat, a senior policy director at the Alliance for Early Success, said on a recent Strategies for Children Zoom call.
“We met almost weekly for four months,” Wat says of the 13 states and eight national organizations who joined the conversation. Strategies for Children, an Alliance grantee, represented Massachusetts. “We didn’t want to limit ourselves to current fiscal and policy constraints.”
Instead the group talked about a “North star,” an untethered vision of what the country could do to rebuild child care.
“We wanted to be bold, but we also wanted to be pragmatic,” Wat said.
“Roadmap” is deliberately used to acknowledge that states are in different situations and would take different paths forward.
“We all know that we cannot return to the broken child-care system we had before the pandemic,” the report’s webpage says. “But what will it take to build something that truly serves children, families, providers, educators, and our economy with equity and quality at its core?”
The roadmap calls for high-quality programs, noting:
“During a severe recession, when child care is seen increasingly as a means to reopening the economy, it will be easy for elected officials to regard quality as a luxury we can’t afford. It isn’t. Turning away from quality now will not serve children, families, and early childhood educators well.”
The roadmap also “identifies four key areas of work, each with a set of short- and long-term strategies and policy ideas that advocates and policy leaders who work at the state and federal levels should consider.” The four areas and some of their related policies and strategies are:
• Increase access and affordability for all families
– “Eliminate co-payments for families with low incomes who are eligible for child care subsidies.”
– “Invest in real-time data systems to better understand families’ demand and preferences and the changing supply of providers as the pandemic continues”
– “Advance policies that increase the supply of ECE facilities that are safe, healthy, and inspiring”
– create policies and investments that strengthen licensed family child care providers
• advance the ECE profession
– develop a salary scale (with benefits) for early childhood educators and program directors that aligns with state career ladders and with other professions that require similar levels of education and responsibility
– as part of states’ COVID-19 response, provide bonus pay and health care benefits to child care staff
– put federal, state, and local revenue strategies in place to meet compensation goals
– Use contracts between states and providers as well as increased funding to meet higher compensation standards.
• reform child care financing
– state and the federal governments should invest in analyzing the true cost or providing high-quality early programs
– advocates should frame appeals for funding as an investment in the public good that is comparable to the other infrastructure investments we make to ensure that the economy and our society are equitable, just, and prosperous
– advocates should work with policymakers to generate more stable revenue through changes in tax policies and by creating funding mechanisms like Special Government Districts
– advocates should oppose inequitable revenue streams that will result in less funding for early childhood programs
• build a better child care business model
– use federal funding to purchase access to the Child Care Management Systems (CCMS) so that programs have more accurate data about revenue and enrollment
– use government funding — including any future COVID relief packages — to expand provider support networks, so that providers know how to use the Child Care Management Systems
– collaborate with child care providers to create innovative business and staffing models, such as having shared leadership and shared administrative structures
– create pedagogical and business leadership pathways that allow ECE directors to develop professionally
The roadmap is a step forward, but, as the report notes, more conversations are necessary.
“We also need to hear more directly from local stakeholders, especially families and educators, and ensure that their hopes and dreams for their children and themselves are aligned with this roadmap. In other words, as we take our first steps toward a more transformational future, we will also need to be nimble and change course or create new paths or slow down or accelerate as circumstances change.”
“Our destination is an America in which high-quality child care—and the broader ECE system—is an essential public good. And in order to get there, we’ll need new vehicles —a new way of doing business as an educator, program director, advocate, and policymaker. Only then can we secure the public investments needed to support the ambitious goals this roadmap lays out for equity, quality, access, and the ECE profession.”