Voices’ Blog

Collective Feedback on Virginia’s School Readiness Plans

Posted:  -  By: Emily Griffey

Next week state leaders will host four listening sessions to solicit feedback on the state’s plans for school readiness. There are also opportunities to submit written feedback by August 31st. Voices encourages all stakeholders involved in early childhood care and education to learn more about the state’s plans and attend one of the listening sessions or email feedback to info@vecf.org. More details and locations of the listening sessions and the draft needs assessment and strategic plan are available here.

As someone who has worked on early childhood education policy for more than 15 years (and as a mom of two young kids) I am excited about the goals to improve Virginia’s early childhood system. There are many successes to build on in Virginia, but it will take significant efforts to ensure that all kids can benefit from high-quality early learning. Voices has convened the Early Childhood Policy Network for almost 10 years to bring stakeholders together around common policy priorities and messages. This past week we gathered to identify common themes in response to the state’s early childhood plans. We will share the collective feedback during the upcoming listening tour.

Early childhood stakeholders are encouraged to share these common messages during the listening tour and through written comments.

Praise for the Approach of the Governor’s Directive

  • With one in three young children in Virginia living in low-income families and only 30% of low-income children having access to publicly funded early care, it is time for the state to play a role in closing the opportunity gap for low-income children. This opportunity gap also disproportionately impacts children of color. Virginia can change the trajectory of equity by improving access to early childhood education.
  • The Governor’s Directive Four highlights expanding access for low-income three and four- year-olds. While many of the policies at the state level focus on four-year-olds, research shows the best outcomes for low-income children are realized when they have two years of high-quality care.

Impact of Consolidating State Oversight

  • Aligning federal and state funding for early childhood will allow Virginia to coordinate funding streams and use them more effectively. However, it is also crucial to provide enough resources so that all publicly funded programs, from Floyd County to Fairfax County, are able to attract and retain early childhood educators and access comprehensive services for families such as transportation, mental health services, or family engagement expertise.
  • It is important to look from the perspective of the family when aligning policies and programs. Our current system of early childhood programs is complex and requires families to navigate eligibility criteria, enrollment, and hours without much help or streamlining.
  • Consolidated oversight provides the opportunity to create an umbrella structure for a “mixed-delivery” of early childhood across school, Head Start, and child care settings. The state should put forth a framework that provides every locality the same tools to play the game. This framework should address funding criteria, standards, outcome measures, and best practices.

Improving Policies and Regulations

  • To improve access to high quality care, we should go to where many children are currently being served and provide the resources to increase enrollment and improve quality. This means building the capacity of private child care, Head Start, and home-based child care, through policy options — such as vouchers, wraparound services, and contracts — not creating a new program or funding stream.
  • The state should amend policies or consider legislation to clarify how early childhood educators, who do not  need BA degrees or to be licensed teachers, can be paid with public funds.
  • The Commonwealth needs to consider Head Start guidelines to build new policies around partnering. Through the Head Start Program Performance Standards grantees are allowed to partner with licensed child care programs.

Unifying a Quality Framework

  • Scaling up a quality framework should come with plans to provide a mix of financial incentives that is  substantive and aids in the recruitment/retention of early childhood educators. It should include stipends, performance awards, tax credits, and more.
  • We should create financial rewards for sustaining quality, not only demonstrating improvements.
  • It is necessary to build the system around what is in the best interest of children — focus on teacher interactions, include families in the design, since what is best for the parents is also best for young children.

Keep the Feedback Loop Open

  • Leaders need to fully engage parents and educators in every step of the process to design new systems that work for them. This includes more opportunities to provide feedback during the evening or through stakeholder and user advisory networks.
  • The Commonwealth should provide enough information so that stakeholders can understand the impact. How will safety through licensing and regulations be addressed? Where are efforts included to avoid suspension and expulsion in all early childhood settings in a new system? What does oversight look like from the state to local efforts?
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