Voices’ Blog

Profiles of Private Provider Preschool Partnerships

Posted:  -  By: Emily Griffey

Virginia has adopted of goal of strengthening partnerships with private providers to expand access to the Virginia Preschool Initiative. These partnerships are intended to address one of the key barriers to the expansion of the Virginia Preschool Initiative, not enough classroom space in schools. But there are other benefits to encouraging more private provider partnerships. Working families who need full-day, year-round care can find care in the private sector. Small businesses do not have to compete and offer a service essential to their business model. Many other states have embraced private providers in a mixed delivery model for state-sponsored preschool. Partnerships through the Virginia Preschool Initiative are possible, but currently only eight localities partner with private providers.

Voices wanted to learn more from the localities with partnerships with private providers in place and were intrigued by the examples in Alexandria City and Fairfax County. We hope that you will read through the profiles of each to learn more about the key actors involved in these partnerships—the private provider agency directors, leadership from city/county agencies and schools, and others you might not expect—Early childhood Specialists, City Council members and community stakeholders who make these partnerships happen. We hope that these profiles will be useful to policymakers weighing proposals to strengthen public-private partnerships and to local leaders in putting together their own plans to develop partnerships with private providers.

Profile- Preschool in Alexandria: A Committed Relationship Takes Work

Profile- Preschool in Fairfax: Start With the Children, Go Where They Are

The points below highlight Voices’ lessons learned from these examples.

1. Is there a preferred approach to structuring a partnership with private providers?

There was no special formula for private provider partnerships but if there was one “secret ingredient” to this work, it is strong relationships. The local leadership in Fairfax and Alexandria spend a significant amount of time building relationships with the private provider community. In both cases the locality has offered professional development training to child care providers, and had supplemented local child care assistance funds with local dollars to serve more families. The fact that there was an established relationship made the details easier to put together. In both of these examples, the Social Services administrators, typically responsible for partnering with private child care providers around licensure and professional development for the workforce, played a key role in developing partnerships alongside the school division.

2. What are useful methods to indentify private providers in a community that would make good partners for preschool?

The two communities we profile each took a different approach to identifying private providers, both useful methods for other localities to consider.

In Fairfax, the philosophy was to “go where the children are”. They approached the private provider centers that already enrolled a high proportion of at-risk students in the community receiving child care assistance and made those classrooms equivalent quality to a public preschool experience.

In Alexandria, they also partnered with many of the providers serving at-risk children receiving child care subsidy, and based their partnership decisions on formal criteria– providers who had participated in the VA Quality Rating System and national accreditation– to verify the quality. Alexandria completes a formal procurement process each year to award contracts to private providers.

3. How is the budget structured to make partnerships work?

Approaches to budgeting are different in each of these localities. As Alexandria has more of a contract model, they grant each partner a per pupil amount based on the number of children they will serve. The partner has to make up the true cost for each pupil from other sources- tuition, other grants or subsidy payments. Fairfax is more of a wrap-around model, where VPI quality is wrapped into existing programs. VPI funds support mentors, the Early Childhood Specialists, who provide TA on site, and additional comprehensive services, like social-emotional specialists, at private providers.

In both cases, there is a barrier to using VPI funds to support true costs at private partner locations because of the policy interpretation that state funds can be used only for licensed teachers. In most of these private providers, the educators do not have licensure. However, to ensure that the instruction is high quality, these partnerships rely on other quality indicators and additional professional development and mentoring for classroom teachers.

The private providers we talked leveraged state VPI funds along with other resources, which requires a significant amount of effort for private fundraising, marketing to tuition paying families, and writing grants that public preschool programs do not have to do.

4. Are children benefiting from partnerships with private providers?

In addition to the benefit to children and families provided by full-day, year round coverage, these two localities have tracked data to demonstrate that children enrolled in private providers are on-par with their peers in school settings. One example comes from the largest private VPI provider in Alexandria. At the end of year literacy skills assessment, their students perform just as well or better than the students in public school classrooms. We would like to see better data collection to track performance into kindergarten and beyond.

5. Why don’t more communities seek partnerships?

While it is definitely hard work, and takes some innovation and risk, Voices believes that all communities have the elements in place to make partnerships happen. When communities are not seeking partnerships, they are likely not as familiar with the private child care providers in the community and do not have champions in the local Departments of Social Services, who have established relationships with private providers, poised to partner with the school system. In those cases, other resources such as Child Care Resource and Referral Networks, Smart Beginnings, Virginia Quality partners and accredited providers, can help bridge those relationships.

Photo credit: A VPI preschool class from Child and Family Network Centers in Alexandria

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