Transforming the Financing of Early Childhood Education
A Statement from the National Power to the Profession Task Force
Look at the world around you. It may seem like an immovable, implacable place. It is not. With the slightest push—in just the right place—it can be tipped.
Malcolm Gladwell, The Tipping Point
Eighteen years ago, the National Academies of Medicine published “From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development” — and, as the intervening years have shown, they made our world tip, towards a wider understanding of the importance of the early years and a groundswell of support for investing in young children. Last week, this same illustrious body published “Transforming the Financing of Early Care and Education,” the highly-anticipated sequel to the landmark 2015 report “Transforming the Workforce for Children Birth through Age 8.” As the organizations that form the national task force of the Power to the Profession initiative, our collective hope is that the combined weight of these two scientific reports, as Neurons to Neighborhoods did before them, will help tip the scales towards a change that has been a long time coming, and an even longer time needed.
This change is none other than the transformation of the complex and heavily fragmented early childhood field into a unified, defined, diverse, well-compensated, supported, educated, effective, equitable, accountable, respected, and coherent profession—one that can deliver on the promise of high-quality early childhood education for all children birth through age 8. The National Power to the Profession Task Force is committed to accomplishing this urgent and important social reform precisely because it is the best and most effective way to improve outcomes for children and families. There is no path to high-quality early childhood education without effective early childhood educators. We know it— and so, too, does this panel of the nation’s leading researchers.
While we will be learning and sharing more, the Task Force finds five areas from the report especially salient:
Benefits Outweigh Cost
Early childhood education contributes 1.1 percent to the gross domestic product (GDP), equivalent to $163 billion. This report estimates full financing of high-quality early childhood education would cost $140 billion, or .75 percent of GDP. Making this investment is making an investment in our nation’s essential infrastructure, as important to our collective existence as other public goods, such as streets and highways, clean drinking water, or sanitation—investments in which, by way of comparison, amount to roughly 2.4 percent of GDP.
Cost Includes Quality (of the workforce)
The report is clear that a qualified and compensated workforce isn’t something that gets layered on top of, or added to the side of, or left out of, the cost of care. It is the core of the cost—and well worth it. As the report notes, “Support for early care and education will be based on paying the total cost of high quality early care and education (i.e., the costs of service delivery with a highly qualified and adequately compensated workforce and systems-level supports, including mechanisms for accountability and improvement).” Additional and critical supports that must be built into the system include comprehensive education, health, nutrition, and two-generation services to our country’s most vulnerable children and families, such as Head Start provides.
Quality Depends on Access (to higher education and professional learning)
Being an early childhood educator is a complex and demanding job that requires the acquisition of a specific set of knowledge, skills, and competencies. This report highlights the need to ensure that current and future educators are provided with “financial assistance to increase practitioners’ knowledge and competencies and to achieve required qualifications through higher education programs, credentialing programs, and other forms of professional learning.” Further, to maintain and increase the critical diversity of our field, the report calls for this to happen without adding to the financial burden of professionals already in the workforce.
Access Is for Everyone (across settings)
Our mixed-delivery system of early childhood education benefits children, families, educators, and communities. As a Task Force, we value and embrace the critical role of family child care in our system now and into the future. We believe not only that families should have access to quality regardless of the setting they choose, but also that many families do and will continue to actively select family child care. Somewhat controversially, this report provides a cost estimate that assumes a shift from family-based to center-based care over time. Despite this assumption, however, we read the report as sharing our value of a mixed-delivery system, as it fundamentally recognizes that “financing mechanisms should be available to all families and to all center- and home-based providers that meet quality standards.”
Everyone is Responsible (for the cost)
The report posits the need for shared financial responsibility; market research from Task Force members indicates that the public agrees. This research has found that while political ideology yields different perspectives on the role of government in financing high-quality early childhood education, perspectives on the role of parents are quite consistent. Approximately 40% of conservative, moderate, and liberal parents believe they should hold some responsibility for funding their children’s early childhood education, with a shared and significant role for local, state, and federal government.
The federal government, however, plays an outsized role in the financing of early childhood education—and it must play a much greater one. While families, programs, and states have a real and meaningful need for a seamless system, described in this report as one that is “harmonized and coordinated,” the committee is clear that they are “not recommending that federal revenue streams be consolidated and distributed to states in the form of block grants.” The Task Force echoes and elevates this recommendation, in recognition of the particular importance of the federal-to-local funding model and local decision-making power of Head Start in promoting equity and quality for children and families in communities across the country. The leading researchers, economists, and experts who made this critical recommendation are, like the Power to the Profession Task Force members, calling for more and more equitable investment over time, not less.
The authors are also calling for more quality, and more consistency, using the leverage held by the federal government. As they note, in order to “ensure equitable access to high-quality early care and education for all children, the federal government and the states should use consistent, high quality-standards across all public financing.” We concur—and we further note that when it comes to these standards, the profession must be in the lead. We believe that early childhood educators are experts in their own practice, and that they, not elected officials or policymakers, need to be the ones informing and directing the work to shape and define their profession. That includes setting their own standards and, in collaboration with federal, state, and local governing bodies, having both support and accountability for meeting them. Which brings us back to this:
For too long, the nation has been making do with the systems and policies that are rather than envisioning the systems and policies that are needed, and committing to the strategies necessary to achieve them.
Transforming the Workforce for Children Birth Through Age 8, 2015
We believe this is our time; we hope these seminal reports are the push. When we look back in eighteen years, let’s be able to say that this was a moment that the world, yet again, began to finally tip.
The National Power to the Profession Task Force
- American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees
- American Federation of Teachers
- Associate Degree Early Childhood Teacher Educators
- Child Care Aware of America
- Council for Professional Recognition
- Division for Early Childhood of the Council for Exceptional Children
- Early Care and Education Consortium
- National Association for Family Child Care
- National Association for the Education of Young Children
- National Association of Early Childhood Teacher Educators
- National Association of Elementary School Principals
- National Education Association
- National Head Start Association
- Service Employees International Union
- ZERO TO THREE