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Four Ways States Can Expand Early Childhood Programs

Four Ways States Can Expand Early Childhood Programs

2019 Meade Fellow Danila Crespin Zidovsky with IEL President Johan Uvin

by Danila Crespin Zidovsky, 2019 Meade Fellow

This year, I was selected as one of two Edward J. Meade Policy Fellows through the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE) and the Institute for Educational Leadership (IEL). In June, I traveled to Washington D.C. to meet with several nonprofits, foundations, and elected officials focused on early childhood education and care. Before attending Harvard, I worked for the federal and local government and several nonprofit organizations to expand high-quality early childhood education and care to children in New Mexico.

We know more than ever about brain architecture and early childhood development. Access to high-quality care ensures our earliest learners develop the cognitive, social, and emotional skills and experiences needed to be successful in school and life. Children who face greater adversity, like living in poverty, are at far greater risk for delays in their development. While early childhood education is where we see the largest return on investment, it is also where we consistently invest the least.

This year, my home state of New Mexico established the Early Childhood Education and Care Department. My conversations in D.C. focused on the rare and exciting opportunity NM has to coordinate the administration of birth-through-grade-three programs for young children and their families. Below are four ways states can expand early childhood care and learning programs:

  1. Support a high-quality prenatal to age 8 early childhood education and care continuum.
    During my fellowship, I connected with the Learning Policy Institute. LPI has extensively researched the impact of high-quality early learning. According to LPI, states should coordinate and align systems and services for children between early childhood and k-12.
    Key Recommendations:
    • Enhancing quality and access to high-quality child care (Birth to 3)
      While I was in DC, I met with the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC). According to NWLC, high-quality child care is essential for parents to be gainfully employed and to give children a strong start in school. However, many families—particularly low-income families—lack access to high-quality child care.
    • Build a Strong High-Quality Early Education System. Provide voluntary full-day, full-year pre-K for all three and four-year-olds through a mixed-delivery model. Students who attend high-quality preschool programs reap benefits that can last throughout their lives.
    • Expand critical services to families. Positive family-program connections have been linked to greater academic motivation, grade promotion, and socio-emotional skills across all types of young children, including those from diverse ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. Research finds that high levels of family engagement often result from strong program-family partnerships characterized by trust, shared values, ongoing communication, mutual respect, and attention to the child’s well-being.
    • Align early learning and care with kindergarten-third grade systems
      • According to the Education Commission of the States, creating a quality, aligned continuum can create opportunities to close the achievement gap and improve third grade reading and math proficiency.
  2. Invest in the Workforce.
    LPI recommends investing in educator quality, including higher pay and increased access to specialized training, classroom-based coaching, and higher education programs that provide strong clinical training. States can support teachers by increasing T.E.A.C.H scholarships and offering loan forgiveness for providers. According to the Center for American Progress the median hourly wage for a child care worker in New Mexico is $9.66 and $12.89 for a preschool teacher.
    Key Recommendations:

    Create on the job training through apprenticeships. A 2016 U.S. Department of Education report states apprenticeships are an opportunity to “learn by doing” through site-based training.
    Continue to raise reimbursement rates paid by the state to providers of subsidized ECE programs. This allows providers to raise wages, helpful in recruiting and retaining educators.
    ● Provide state funding for professional development and educational supports to ensure an adequate supply of highly skilled educators.
    ● Encourage articulation agreements with community colleges.
    ● Provide high school students training within ECE classrooms. 

  3. Expand Funding
    While in D.C. I visited with the First Five Years Fund (FFYF). They advocate for significant federal investment in early learning by working with policymakers to find policy solutions to making a continuum of comprehensive, high-quality early learning opportunities accessible to children from birth through age five – particularly those from low-income families. 
    Key Recommendations:

    ● States need dedicated funding mechanisms that are more stable than annual discretionary appropriations from general revenue, like the Preschool Development Grant Birth through Five program (PDG B-5).
    ● Funds should be blended or braided seamlessly, with minimal burden on children and families, to support both education and care throughout the day and to cover a full workday 5 days a week, 12 months a year.
    ● States should align child care eligibility verification requirements with Head Start Performance.
    ● Allow states and Head Start agencies to jointly apply for waivers based on Early Learning Council plans for systems integration and improvement.
    ● Support early childhood education coalitions and connect communities with partner organizations like Alliance for Early Success, Ounce of Prevention, BUILD, NBCDI and others.
    ● Partner with foundations and philanthropies like W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

  4. Leading for Equity
    Children living in poverty are at increased risk for poor health, social, developmental, behavioral, and academic outcomes. I had the opportunity to meet with the National Black Child Development Institute. NBCDI is leading efforts to end discriminatory suspension and expulsion rates for children of color.

    Key Recommendations:
    NBCDI is focused on expanding the ECE leadership pipeline for teachers of color to lead schools, districts and administrations.
    ● Develop and implement Cultural Competency Action Plans to provide culturally congruent care to reduce disparities through administrative support, education, and trainings.
    ● Provide clear pathways for bilingual instructors and dual-language programs.

High-quality early learning puts children on the path to success in school and in life. Many young children in New Mexico do not have access to early childhood education and care programs. The patchwork of underfunded programs and services available to families is insufficient. Using these four strategies, states can strategically expand high-quality care and education while supporting professionals and keeping children at the center of the work.

Danila Crespin Zidovsky, MPA, is a first year Ed.L.D. doctoral candidate at Harvard Graduate School of Education. She is a first-generation Mexican American raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Danila has taught both in the United States and abroad in South Korea. After working for a member of Congress, Danila earned her Master’s in Public Administration from the University of New Mexico and has since focused her career in early childhood education. She has worked for various nonprofits, including those focused on social justice, early childhood education, Latino culture and history, and education policy. She has served as senior staff for multiple political campaigns, both at the national and at the local level. Danila looks forward to continuing her efforts to expand high quality early childhood education and care for our country’s earliest learners. She serves on the board of the Center for Civic Policy, UNM School of Public Administration, and Emerge New Mexico.