Voices’ Blog

Time to Do Something Big in ECE

Posted:  -  By: Emily Griffey

Voices had the opportunity to present to the Subcommittee on Elementary and Secondary Education of the House Appropriations Committee this Wednesday. Our policy director, Emily Griffey, shares her thoughts about what policymakers should consider to improve access to high-quality early childhood opportunities.

I’ve been disturbed by this trend. Over the last five years, our outcomes on the PALS-K literacy assessment have gotten worse each year. In fall 2017, we were back to 16 percent of kids entering school without the literacy skills they needed to succeed in kindergarten–the same place we were in fall 2007.

While we cannot draw a direct correlation between the reason for the decline in PALS-K data, we do know the decline corresponds to when the recession hit, resulting in more young children growing up in poverty between 2009-2014. The recession had a huge impact not only on families, but also on our state and local budgets. Fewer resources were available to offer more early childhood opportunities, and Virginia Preschool Initiative (VPI) enrollment stalled.

We need to correct this trend immediately. While we have great buy-in on early childhood, most of our policy improvements in recent years have focused on piloting efforts, forming new committees, or measuring progress. What we really need now is some big picture thinking to turn that curve around.

Here are some of the ideas we presented to the House Appropriations Committee to go big:

  1. Improve the quality of VPI: Several budget amendments on the House side would assess the quality of VPI classrooms or create plans to improve VPI. We hope these amendments will move forward to give the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) some resources to move down this path. We also hope assessments will be linked to quality improvement plans.
  2. Improve quality AND access and crack the nut on public-private partnerships for VPI: We have a variety of public-private partnership models established across the state. Let’s share the evaluation information on the models and move forward with several recommendations that can work across different communities to provide more structure to the partnerships.
  3. Establish a quality framework for all public and private early learning programs: If Virginia Quality is our quality framework, we should have all public and private early learning in Virginia move towards a path of aligning with Virginia Quality.
  4. Incentivize quality improvement through tiered reimbursement: If we want to ensure low-income children attend high-quality early learning and high-quality programs serve the most at-risk children, we should incentivize programs to improve their quality and ability to serve at-risk children by tying their child care subsidy reimbursement rate to their assessed quality.
  5. Put social-emotional readiness front and center: We have a great ongoing conversation about how to make the early childhood profession stronger. We should also focus on how to give the professionals serving in the field right now the tools to improve the social-emotional skills of their students. We know it’s the area where we struggle the most, so we should identify our standards, quality framework, professional development offerings, and the like and then pinpoint the most effective training and interventions for early childhood.
  6. Align goals and strategies between the Department of Social Services (DSS) and the Department of Education (DOE): the child learning in the classroom doesn’t care that he’s in a DOE-funded program or a DSS-funded program. We should align the goals and governance and then leverage the funds between our two biggest agencies serving young children.

And we should ensure these big ideas include a focus on infants and toddlers and engaging parents.

While these issues may seem too big to tackle, I would argue that with legislative committees like the Joint Subcommittee on VPI Reform, the School Readiness Council, and what will hopefully be a continuation of the Governor’s Children’s Cabinet, we have several venues through which we can do it.

We also have short-term opportunities that advocates should keep on the horizon:

Feb. 19- Look for recommendations around improving the quality of VPI in the House Appropriations budget report and advocate for inclusion in the final budget.

March 23- This is the deadline for Congress to act on appropriations and make good on the promise to double CCDBG discretionary funds for our child care subsidy and quality improvement systems.

April- The State Child Care Fund Plan is open for public comment. This can be an opportunity to advocate for tiered reimbursement or other quality improvement strategies in early childhood.

Summer- Look for evaluations of VPI+ and mixed-delivery preschool models for quality features and effective partnership arrangements.


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