[Watch] Two sides of one child care dilemma


Fed Communities Staff

Picture of pre-school aged children playing in classroom setting

Access to quality early childhood education (ECE) is critical to the well-being of communities and the economy. The pandemic further exposed existing issues, including how a lack of access to reliable and affordable childcare affects the parental workforce, yet also how financing challenges strain provider profitability.

On May 11, 2023, the Federal Reserve Banks of Boston, Minneapolis, and St. Louis hosted a Connecting Communities webinar exploring recent research around cost and affordability challenges, especially for workers needing nontraditional hours of care and financial constraints on the provider side. The event included a discussion of innovative solutions to help attract and retain ECE workers and sustain quality programs. Watch or listen on-demand to hear from parents and experts as they share their perspectives on these issues, how they’ve experienced challenges, and insights on community solutions. Plus, keep reading for a full transcript.

Connecting Communities Two Sides of One Child Care Dilemma (video, 1:02:01).
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Jennie Blizzard

Good afternoon, everyone. I’m Jennie Blizzard with Fed Communities. We would like to welcome you to our May Connecting Communities webinar, Two Sides of One Child Care Dilemma.

Access to quality early childhood education is critical to the well-being of communities and the economy. A lack of access to reliable and affordable childcare affects the workforce and childcare providers.

Today, you’ll hear more about these challenges and some innovative solutions and more about Fed research related to this topic. In addition to Fed colleagues, we’re honored to have early childcare providers and even parents share their perspectives and provide insights on community solutions. But before we get started, we would like to share a few housekeeping items. Today’s session is being recorded and will be available within two weeks.

Views expressed during this session are those of the speakers and are intended for informational purposes. They do not necessarily represent the views of Fed Communities or the Federal Reserve System.

Microphones have been muted. Please use the Q and A feature throughout the session to submit questions. We promise to get to as many of them as possible. And finally, feel free to keep the conversation going and engage with us on Twitter using the hashtag #connectingcommunities.

Before we jump into the content of today’s event, I would like to briefly introduce Ben Horowitz, who’s going to kick off today’s session. Ben is a senior policy analyst at the Minneapolis Fed. He writes about policies and programs impacting affordable housing, investments in low and moderate-income communities, and early childhood development. So now I turn it over to you, Ben. Take it away.

Benjamin Horowitz

Thanks, Jennie. As Jennie mentioned, I work in community development and engagement at the Minneapolis Fed, one of 12 regional Federal Reserve Banks spread across the nation. We’re the ninth district, the colored gold swath at the top of the map here. I’m located in the Twin Cities, which is the metro that’s home to about three and a half million people.

The next largest metros in our district, Duluth and Fargo, each have less than 300,000 people. We’ve got 12% of the nation’s land but only 3% of its people. So our district is very big and very diverse in just about every way you can imagine. We’ve got a big metro. We’ve got Native nations. We’ve got regional hubs surrounded by rural and frontier communities. There are bustling main streets that have been revitalized by immigration, boom towns, and places that are struggling economically.

One of our jobs in my department is to understand how low and moderate-income households are able to participate in all these local economies. We often ask, “What’s keeping low and moderate-income households on the sidelines?” We also ask how the nation’s credit and banking infrastructure serve different communities in our district. These questions all tie into our dual mandate from Congress to pursue stable prices and maximum employment and also into my department’s specific function, which derives from the Community Reinvestment Act.

I wanted to give you all this context because I want you to understand how significant it is when I say that, despite the miles and diversity contained within our district and the range of topics we cover in my department, childcare almost always comes up in conversation with local community leaders. You can go ahead and change the slide from the Fed map to the cute kids on slide six.

So just as one example, we recently interviewed about 35 workforce professionals in our district about the biggest challenges for their clients that still struggle to find work in this hot labor market. Childcare was mentioned as one of the three biggest barriers for unemployed workers in nearly every single conversation.

I’ve heard about it in some places you wouldn’t expect, like a pork processing facility, and just about everywhere else, like chambers of commerce roundtables and meeting spaces at regional banks, tribal colleges, housing developers’ offices, and hospitals.

The pandemic only grew, diversified, and amplified the chorus of voices in our district talking about the ways parents’ childcare challenges can spill over into the economy as a whole. From talking to my colleagues across the Fed System, tracking data, and listening to the news, I know this isn’t only the case in my neck of the woods.

The increased visibility and intensity of childcare challenges led some of us in the Fed to form a cross-system working group on the topic. That working group has put together numerous informational resources on childcare over the years, including this webinar today and new briefs that we hope are helpful to communities that are grappling with early care and education challenges. And I believe those will be posted in the chat and also distributed after the event.

So people generally see the way childcare impacts local businesses, but for whatever reason, sometimes people either don’t understand or don’t always think first of childcare as a business unto itself. Our group put together some of these resources that we hope are helpful on this front.

So our new briefs approach the childcare sector in the way people think about most other businesses. What’s the supply in childcare, and what’s the demand for it? What makes these two basic factors unique for childcare businesses? And how might local efforts support either side of that equation?

There are a lot of data points that illustrate the childcare challenge from the supply and demand lens. I’m going to focus on four of them before we dive into what will be some very interesting panel discussions afterwards.

So slide seven is all about the funding. When people think of education, they often think of the K-12 system, which is largely financed by the public. Every parent in the nation expects access to a free public education system once their child is old enough.

On the other hand, while there are public and nonprofit resources devoted to childcare, they’re generally smaller than the amount that is spent within the childcare economy by parents. That’s what this first chart here is about. It drives some of the point that the public sector is not really funding the childcare sector. Funding for childcare is coming from parents’ wallets.

We go into more detail on one way to compare the levels of the two types of investments in our supply side brief, which includes some state-by-state breakdowns. Those working parents and guardians drive the demand for childcare, and when that demand goes unmet, there are parents and guardians who want to work but can’t.

Moving on to slide eight, this highlights one of the things we know about this group of working caregivers. Before I dive into that, we also know that most parents are working or want to. 94% of fathers are working or looking for work, and two-thirds of mothers are in the same boat.

Why the gap? While some parents certainly choose to stay at home, there’s also a lot of evidence that when childcare challenges a family, a mother is more likely to stay at home, even if they want to be in the workforce. These decisions look different for families when children are at different ages, which is the point this chart emphasizes.

Simply put, it shows that parents work less and are paid less for the hours they do work when their children are younger. Part of that is because parents tend to be younger. Though it doesn’t always feel like it for me, our children age at the same rate we do. So, by definition, you’ll be older when your children are older. And as people get older, they tend to earn more money.

But another big part of the equation is the childcare challenges parents face. First, parents need to find childcare that’s available when and where we need it. Our brief has information on how availability can be challenged by just-in-time scheduling, non-traditional work hours, and other factors.

If you can find it, childcare can be expensive. Federal childcare subsidies are available to about 15% of the low and moderate-income parents eligible under federally-suggested guidelines in a typical year. Other programs, like Head Start, are also unavailable to all eligible families.

There are universal pre-K programs out there in some jurisdictions, but they largely serve three and four-year-olds. Everybody else is facing a market where the average parent pays about $11,000 per child per year, according to research by my colleagues at the St. Louis Fed. That works out to about 15% of a median household income.

How does the childcare supply respond to this particular type of demand? Providers must find a way to navigate parents’ limited incomes. They’re working in an industry where the opportunities to innovate are rare. At the end of the day, one person can only care for so many children. And then there’s the cost for them of finding and maintaining an appropriate space, and that’s just the beginning.

Slide nine shows how central childcare wages are to childcare expenses. Even though parents often feel like they’re paying high tuition rates, providers themselves are operating on a very narrow profit margin in many cases with low staff wages, high turnovers, and other myriad challenges. Add in the physical and emotional demands of the actual work of childcare, and it’s little surprise that many childcare providers we talked to or surveyed described difficulties finding staff, alongside high levels of stress and burnout.

This chart shows that the labor-intensive model of childcare businesses means that you can’t really increase staff wages without also challenging affordability for parents. These issues and other related ones are explored in the supply side brief.

Slide 10 is a pitch on why this is important even if you don’t particularly like children. About 20 years ago, economists at the Minneapolis Fed put out a paper on how investments in high-quality early childhood education for children who wouldn’t otherwise have access to it has a high rate of return for the public.

I emphasize for the public here because the benefits of high-quality early childhood education don’t just accrue to the family that is able to participate in it. The kids who are in stable, supportive, and nurturing environments feel the impacts of that environment well into adulthood. Over the past two decades, the evidence has remained clear, and now we’re seeing signs that high-quality early childhood development can actually benefit three generations: parents, their children, and their children’s children.

This chart shows how the children of the now adult preschoolers from one high-quality early childhood program are faring along to some of their peers whose parents did not get access to that program because of capacity limits.

So, as I mentioned, we have these new briefs out, which should be shared in the chat and will also be shared with everyone who attended or registered today. And in those briefs, you’ll find a lot more detail than I was able to discuss today, and you’ll also hear a lot more about these issues from some very interesting people very soon as I turn the mic over to Ana for our first panel of the day. Thanks for your attention.

Ana Kent

Wow, Ben, thank you so much. Yeah, this is really wonderful information that you’ve given me, and I’m so excited to introduce two speakers. Panel one’s going to include Erin Barnease as well as Grace Major. And you can go ahead and take the slide down. People can just see us now. We’re just going to have a conversation. Three moms, three working moms.

Erin is also a student teacher in LA, and Grace works for MAAC as a workforce development manager also in California but in San Diego. So they’re going to have some really great perspectives to offer to us. I’ll give you a little bit of background on who I am and why I’m maybe qualified to moderate this panel.

So I’ve been working at the St. Louis Fed for the past five years, and the past two of them, I’ve been working that same work group that Ben was talking about, the system-wide early care and education work group.

And it’s true. No matter who we speak to in the community, childcare frequently comes up as either an opportunity or a challenge. If it’s working well, which for some people it is, if they have it and if they can afford it… That’s not the most common narrative, but if you have it and can afford it, then yeah, it enables you to be in the workforce to participate, especially as mothers.

But if you don’t, and we know those challenges have been ongoing before the pandemic, but were a lot of times made worse by the pandemic, then it can be really challenging. It can be frustrating to participate, and you might have to… Because of any choice you make, your opportunities are limited. And so wanting to pull back.

So I’m going to stop there. I’m going to turn it over to Erin and to Grace and say, would you mind sharing with us your story? Each of you just talk about what your families look like, what your workforce looks like, and how childcare plays a role in that.

Erin Barnease

Sure. I’ll go first. My name is Erin. I live in Los Angeles. I am a wife and mother of two boys, a three and a five-year-old. And our childcare journey started with a private company for our oldest son in 2019. We sent him to daycare, paying out of pocket.

And then we had this global pandemic you might have heard about. And when everything shut down, I was pregnant and on maternity leave, and having a baby. So we went from a family that was out and about in the community to being shut in, like many other people were.

And when my maternity leave ended, I went back to a job that was no longer available. The company that I was working for didn’t survive the pandemic, so I found myself trying to navigate the workforce as well as figure out how we were going to take care of these two children.

And to some of Ben’s points, we were making sacrifices and adjustments to our family. I was considering working nights so that we could continue having healthcare because, as an unemployed person, you can’t afford to send your children to private daycare anymore.

And I was fortunate to find a remote work-from-home position. So I had to navigate that balance of trying to work at home and have two small children running circles around me all day long and the needs that come along with that.

And I’ve been doing that for a good while now. And as the program started opening back up, we qualified for the Head Start program here in Los Angeles. My oldest son has been in the Head Start program, and the youngest just graduated out of the Early Head Start into the Head Start.

And I found myself kind of looking at that program and was offered an opportunity to become a member of a teacher training program through the Los Angeles County Office of Education. So I’m on that path right now, still working full-time, still doing student hours, still mommying, still wifing, still cooking, kind of cleaning. So that’s me.

Ana Kent

Thank you, Erin. And yeah, I didn’t mention it, but I so appreciate both of your time, as working moms, to take what limited time you have not to shower by yourself in peace, not to do laundry, but to share your stories with us today. So thank you for that. Grace, what about you?

Graciela Major

So yeah, I’m Grace. I’m from San Diego. I am a mother and a wife as well. I have two. And my children’s are… My child is… John is seven, and Jasmine is 10. And so they’re a little bit older.

But our childcare journey started since they were born because I have always been in the workforce, and I have different seasons of childcare in my life because I was married to a military member, and so that looked different. There was assistance, but it was not always accepted at all private childcare providers.

And there was a point where we had to make decisions if it even made sense for me to work because we brought in two incomes, but when you think of the cost of childcare… So that was our journey through the private sector. And we used babysitters because it was more affordable, even though that didn’t feel always like the best option for the… Not so much the safety of our children, but for the development of our child and what we wanted for them when we think of early care and education.

I did apply for Head Start, and there was a wait list. And so I had to wait for that. And then, at the time, we were two working individuals, which didn’t qualify for the poverty income guidelines. So that was again, a struggle.

But eventually, we were accepted to a state-funded preschool, and so that was great, but then they check your income every year. So, at the time, I qualified, but at the end of the year, I didn’t. So again, it was a constant, “Are we going to be okay this year?”

So then that happened, and then I became a single mother. And I had an infant and a toddler, and a single mother, and I was able to then qualify for Head Start, and my children got accepted. So luckily, that really helped. But even then, I had to accommodate for when my children were sick. Like, “How am I going to go to work?” I had to call out sick when my children were sick, being a single mother trying to navigate that space.

And so I’m so grateful for Head Start and all of their commitment to our children. And I actually work for Head Start now, so I know the challenges our parents are facing with these scenarios, especially during the pandemic.

And now, as my children are older, I still face childcare issues. Because after-school program, there was a wait list. So my children go in at 9 o’clock, okay? I have to be at work at 8:00. 7 and 10-year-olds cannot be left alone. So luckily, I am married, and my husband really does contribute to the household. And so we play it as a team. But he travels for work. So it’s something we’re still juggling.

We finally were accepted into the after-school program, but then again, that’s an additional $600 a month that we’re taking into consideration. So there’s all these journeys of childcare from infant to teens. Because even as they’re growing, there’s still wait lists, we still have to apply.

And I will tell you that after-school programs during the pandemic were nonexistent. So luckily, I was able to work from home, but then I had to juggle remote work plus remote school, which was awful. And I probably lacked more so in the teaching or helping my children because I was more focused on being a provider and bringing in financial contributions to our household. So that was also a juggle.

Luckily, there was a Covid relief through the YMCA at that time, and I qualified because now being in a two… In a working family, then we didn’t qualify for services again. But I know you mentioned, “What was the struggles? What does that mean economically for our household?” It means sacrificing, “Can my daughter do competitive dance at this time? Because we have to sacrifice paying $600.” All of the extracurricular activities.

And then I can think of the beginning when we were looking to purchase a home, that income-to-debt ratio matters when I’m paying $1,200 when they were in the preschool system. So when we got into Head Start, it actually opened up the opportunity because I didn’t have to pay that much anymore.

But those are things that lenders look at, “What does your childcare look like? How much are you paying?” So that can really make a difference into what I’m paying for my mortgage, the area that I’m living in. So it really just affects the whole household and our quality of living.

Ana Kent

Yeah, Grace, thank you for sharing your story as well. I can’t imagine how difficult it is to share. We have the solidarity, especially during Covid, I think, those of us who were, as you both mentioned, fortunate enough to telecommute or work from home. Our colleagues got a glimpse into our hectic lives. Some people had cats over their shoulder. We had kids sometimes over our shoulders.

And it gave maybe people a little bit more sympathy and compassion, but at the same time, these are issues that we have to deal with, and it can be hard to talk about them, even though, I think, there is a little bit more at least knowledge about them today.

So I heard both of you talk and touch on different issues that affect the ability of mothers, of parents to participate. One of those was affordability. So you both mentioned that. Availability, right? In most places, there’s a childcare desert, meaning that there’s not enough spots for the kids that are in that area.

And so, Grace, you were talking about how you had to juggle babysitters. And other people, if they’re fortunate to live by good friends or family, they may be able to squeeze something together. I know I had to do that with my second child because she didn’t have a daycare spot for six months after I needed it. So there was a lot of juggling. And Grace, you used that word a lot as well.

And then the final thing I wanted to mention was hours. Erin, you talked about how you were considering working late. I think, Grace, you might have mentioned that, too. And both of you were either out of the labor force for a short time or were thinking about potentially, “Are the trade-offs worth it?” Maybe financially speaking, maybe in terms of just balance in your lives and hours.

So can you maybe both touch on that a little bit more in terms of just the challenges that you’ve seen and what childcare has allowed you and maybe people you’ve interacted with or spoken with, what has it allowed them to do in terms of being in that workforce? And let’s go with Grace first.

Graciela Major

Okay, so yeah, in my position now, and I think throughout my whole career, I’ve always been expected to work some weekends. I actually am fortunate that I’ve been in the early education space, and I did that with intention because of my children. And even that, I’ve had to make decisions because the costs or… The pay for early educators or individuals in the space isn’t always the living wage, especially in San Diego.

So weekends and evenings were required when we… For outreach and events. And so that’s always been a struggle. And that’s… Working with my partner, my husband at the time, or making sure grandma or grandpa can help because the childcare system is typically 6:00 to 6:00 or 9:00 to 5:00, so it’s not realistic for parents who have flexible schedules in their career. And I try to have on-call babysitters, but that doesn’t always work.

And then to mention about the cost, it’s an additional cost to what I’m already paying in childcare, right? Weekends, I’ve had to call in sick or bring my child, to be honest. And luckily, I’m in a role where my kids enjoy the events we have, but they don’t want to be there for six hours. And it’s a struggle to do my job well while I have my child with me. So I would say that it’s definitely a struggle.

And again, when I think of Head Start, although it was a great help for our family, and I was a Head Start alumni, so I love what Head Start is all about, but the hours were just not realistic for my work. They typically were done by 4:00 or 5:00, and I was done with work by 4:00 or 5:00. So how was I expected to pick up my child on time? So I think that has been a big… It’s still a struggle, to be honest with you, because my kids are still kids, and I still work some evenings and weekends. But I have to have a system in place with my family, with my friends. And I have to respect that they also have lives.

Ana Kent

Yeah, absolutely. And I think… So one of the other webinars that I’ve been on the past couple of years on childcare, one of the things that struck me most was someone saying that, “Everywhere in the US is a childcare desert after 6:00 PM.” So that makes that so difficult if you’re doing weekend work or if you’re doing any kind of work after 6 o’clock that you need to get done.

And Grace, you said your kids are a little bit older now. Erin, you’re right in the thick of things, like I am. So how does it affect you? The affordability challenges, the availability challenges, whatever in that question you’d like to respond to.

Erin Barnease

Well, I think the affordability challenge is part of it, and the juggling that Grace was talking about, it’s an emotional and it’s a stressful, and it’s a big burden on families as well to have to be able to navigate even just day to day.

I mean, I haven’t been in the private daycare situation in a while, but at Head Start, there would be… We’d find out at 6:00 AM that the class is closed at 7:00 AM. So how do we handle that? How do we navigate that? And my husband and I have been a great partnership with, “Oh, I’ll take this morning off, and then you can go in the afternoon.”

Our family structure is not as strong locally, but we do have some people that we can rely on to pick up and assist with childcare. But waking up to that message in the morning and just having your whole day flipped around affects the mother, affects the matriarch, affects the patriarch, affects the entire family. The kids are like, “Oh, we’re not awake yet.” Their whole morning is thrown off. So it’s also very stressful for families.

And we have families in our programs where the parents work all night long, and they come and they drop off their kid, and then they go home, and that’s their time to sleep. But their kid spilled milk all over themselves, and they didn’t bring an extra backpack, so now somebody has to come pick up that kid. And the parent is sleeping. And it’s… Every day is a different challenge.

And I think that that comes a lot, too, from the extreme teacher shortage that we’re experiencing, which is why I’m on the path that I’m on now, is to get into the classroom to start giving these communities and these families and these children the support that they really need. It’s so much more than just the financial strain. It’s so much more than the scheduling. It’s a lot of the emotions and the stress that these families are experiencing post-Covid.

Ana Kent

Yeah. And I think we’ll touch on some of those connections, too, in terms of teacher shortage in the next panel as well, but you both have that experience on both sides, too, right? As I said in our pre-call, we’re not just one… We don’t just wear one hat. We’re moms. We wear so many different hats and try to juggle so many things. And oftentimes, there is spilled milk. I’m very familiar with that.

So I also wanted to talk about just how the funding and the hours seem outdated. And so, when Ben was showing that slide on K-12 per student funding versus infant and versus younger kids, it really struck me that it’s just not conducive to the work schedules and the family structures that we have now.

Most people, most parents in a two-parent household, both of them work now. So it’s just unrealistic to think that one parent is going to be able to pay the bills for everyone and have that financial stability.

And I know we’re a little bit short on time, so I also wanted to talk… Since both of you are in Head Start and are in this field, I wanted to get your perspective on solutions and what you think would really work for you as a parent or for what you’re seeing others as parents. What would work for them? If you could pinpoint one or two things that either businesses could do, the government can do, families could do, providers could do, what might that be? And I’ll start with Erin this time.

Erin Barnease

The Los Angeles County Office of Education has a program through Head Start that’s recruiting parents. They are saying, “Here’s an opportunity for you to enroll in this program at no cost. And at the end of it, in a year, you’ll be an assistant teacher, you’ll have a job, you’ll have the accessibility to maybe another program that your child could enroll in and similar hours to what your children are needing as well.”

That’s really what kind of… I was in that transition of, “I need a job. What am I going to do? Where am I going to go?” And I was like, “I’ve always wanted to be a teacher.” I grew up with a father as a teacher, and I’ve just been recently inspired. And I said, “This is where I want to go.” And the opportunity literally fell into my lap, and I grabbed it. And we did coursework for credits. We are now doing our in-classroom hours. And we’ll be hired in the fall. So it’s a really great program. And if anyone can get into the classroom and wants to be a teacher, be a teacher.

Ana Kent

That’s wonderful. Yeah, that’s really excellent, and I applaud you for taking that. I think moms are so tenacious. They’ll go after some opportunity, especially if it’s going to be good for them and their kids. So thank you, Erin, for sharing.

Erin Barnease

Thank you.

Ana Kent

Grace, what about you?

Graciela Major

Well, I love that program, Erin, and congratulations on starting. I would say the cost for care is definitely a big thing. And what can employers do is, is there an employer reimbursement that maybe could come with some tax incentive for an employer when we have the cost for private sector education? Because not everyone is eligible to go into Head Start or state-funded preschool.

But the second piece with MAAC is that we have 19 child development centers, and we see the scarce of early educators, and we’re having a hard time filling the positions, which means that the parents are not having even more… The access to childcare has even gotten worse through this pandemic. And just the culture of our workforce today.

And so what we are doing is we just launched a registered apprenticeship program with ECEPTS along with Palomar Community College. And so this is paid on-the-job registered program where individuals who are interested in becoming an associate teacher, which is with the associate teacher department, would be doing on-the-job screening that’s paid at 18.65 an hour to start through the two-year program. The education piece with the LEA is also paid for.

We’ve made it easily accessible at our administrative office, so all the employees or apprentices would come to our centralized location to get that education piece. If full-time, you would be considered a MAACie, which is working for MAAC, getting all the benefits, and after that two-year contract is over, you would have all the qualifications after successful completion.

And then you can apply for a permanent position, whether it’s with Head Start or any other early educator. I think it’s our goal to create quality early educators for our community, not just for MAAC, because we really do see this need, whether it’s in the Head Start, state-funded preschool, or the private sector.

Ana Kent

That’s wonderful. I’m so glad both of you ended with teachers because that’s so critical. Some of the work that I’ve done with colleagues, we showed that there was an 11% drop in the workforce, the ECE workforce, between 2020 and the end of 2021.

And I imagine it’s still down, so we really need programs like this that pull not just people into the labor force generally, but also into the ECE labor force. So appreciate both of your time. Happy early Mother’s Day to both of you. At this point, I’m going to turn it over to my colleague, Sarah Savage, who’s going to moderate the panel, too. Over to you, Sarah.

Sarah Savage

Thanks, Ana. And thank you so much, Grace and Erin. It was great hearing from you both. Thank you for sharing your stories about challenges with access. And it’s interesting that being able to access a limited resource such as Head Start played a big role. And I love how you both ended with talking about some solutions on the supply side because that’s exactly where we’re going for the second half of this conversation.

And I’m sure the briefs have been posted at this point, but the three efforts that we’re going to talk about in the supply side section are detailed in the supply side brief, so you can learn more there. We’re going to, hopefully, get at the tip of the iceberg today with this conversation. But this, again, is something that I’ve done with this great ECE work group that I’m a part of.

And I’ve been at the Boston Fed for 10 years, and I would say that the majority of that time I’ve spent working on childcare and, again, just to echo what my colleagues have said, being responsive to what we’ve heard in our district as an issue.

So at the Boston Fed, we’ve interviewed mothers in Massachusetts about trade-offs they make when accessing childcare or their inability to access childcare. And we more recently surveyed parents across the region, and we have some briefs that we’ll leverage data from that survey in the coming year.

So to get started with the next panel, we have Dr. Kimberly Krzanowski, who’s going to talk about an effort at the state level, Rachel Spector, who will be talking about an effort at the county level, and Jen Roberts, who will be talking about an effort at the city level.

So Dr. Krzanowski has… In between the three of them, I just have to say, they have over 65 years of experience in the ECE field. So Dr. Krzanowski, also Kim, has 20 years of experience in early learning. She’s the executive director of the Early Childhood Innovation Center at Delaware State University.

At the county level, we have Rachel Spector, with over 25 years of experience in the ECE field. Rachel’s the director of programs at The Children’s Trust, overseeing early childhood and the Thrive by 5 early learning quality improvement system, youth development after-school and summer programming, and their Innovation Fund.

And with an effort at the city level, we have Jen Roberts, with 20 years of experience in the ECE field. Jen is the CEO of Agenda for Children, an advocacy organization dedicated to improving the well-being of Louisiana’s children.

So thank you so much for joining us, Kim, Rachel, and Jen. And if we could just stick with this order of state, county, and city, just to hear from each of you about… Maybe you could maybe spend two minutes or so talking about your efforts at your respective levels and also what motivated them. Was there a problem that you were responding to? And is it something new, or is it creating more access to something that exists? If you could maybe speak to those. So if we could start with Kim to kick us off with the Early Childhood and Innovation Center work.

Kimberly Krzanowski

Sure. Thanks, Sarah. Hi, everyone. So at the Early Childhood Innovation Center at DSU, this is a unique partnership between the Governor’s Office of Delaware, the Department of Education in Delaware, and of course, Delaware State University.

So I’d be remiss if I said that this wasn’t an idea that had been circulating around our state for a number of years. The pandemic really was the impetus of ensuring that funds were being not only diverted to early care and education but there was a major focus or a continuation of a focus that the pandemic really forcibly made people see that the work that we all know to be very important and essential was actually essential or being referred to as essential.

So the idea around the ECIC, as we call it, is innovative solutions to early childhood workforce challenges. And two of our big initiatives at the State of Delaware in this program is redesigning and implementing an innovative comprehensive statewide scholarship model for folks in the field to get a CDA, a child development associate credential, an associate’s degree, or bachelor’s degree.

And with that, our main focus on CDA, as it is the major gateway or can be a major gateway to build on a pathway for higher education. So we are going to be rolling out, starting in July, a robust, comprehensive, holistic CDA cohort model that really focuses on making sure people are going and completing this degree.

We’re insisting upon their success with various models and really thinking about what it’s going to take for people to engage in a cohort, what it’s going to take for them to stay within that cohort and actually obtain that CDA at the end.

So without getting too much into detail, because I know we have a time limit, when I talk about comprehensive and holistic services, we’re talking about allotting stipends for people for childcare, transportation, textbooks, other resources that they might need, and then having a facilitator and coach with them every bit of the way to keep them motivated, to keep them on track, to make sure they’re aware of all of the pieces that the CDA requires.

And then, at the end, after working six months in the field in Delaware, we’re able to reward them and recognize them with a stipend at the end of a thousand dollars. And that’s just on our CDA cohort program. So the funding for this, like I said, is a unique partnership that really came out of Covid.

And through a partnership with the Department of Education, a continued partnership with the Department of Education, we’ve been able to really blend and braid funds that were going towards similar types of programs but now in a different type of way.

Sarah Savage

Than you so much for that, Kim. Rachel?

Rachel Spector

Yeah, thank you. Good afternoon, everyone. So I work at The Children’s Trust. We are a local funding source established by voter referendum in 2003. And so we partner with the community to advocate and fund strategic investments.

So our early childhood work has changed over the years. We actually started the redesign of our QIS before the pandemic and launched and then found ourselves in the middle of a pandemic. But what we really did is exactly on what you said, Sarah, is we were interested in increasing access to what already existed in our community.

We have different sorts of childcare issues. We don’t have childcare deserts. We actually have zero waiting list for our federal childcare subsidy right now because of many things that have happened during the pandemic and since the pandemic. And so our approach is really based on a two-generational approach to helping families achieve economic self-sufficiency. And really, childcare, obviously, is a huge part of that to help families be able to go to work.

So our approach is sort of three-pronged. We go at it to support our childcare programs that already exist. Our main goal is that children can access high-quality childcare experiences regardless of their zip code and in their own neighborhoods if that’s where they like to go.

We built out a very robust, high-quality tiered payment differential. So we’re directing funding directly into the childcare program to support reinvestment into the program, while at the same time, we developed our own salary supplement program to provide stipends or awards to teachers twice a year. This is based on their ongoing professional development, their competency in the classroom, as well as their longevity in the field.

And then, our really, I guess, most innovative probably is our Families Forward program, where we’re providing these scholarships to families. So in Florida, we had the pandemic followed by… Or I guess during the pandemic, we had the passing of the $15 minimum wage law. So our families are already earning too much in Miami-Dade County to qualify for federal childcare subsidies.

So our Families Forward program supports families with childcare subsidies that… These are families that are really between the 150 to 300% of the federal poverty level. We really tried to address some of the issues that the parents we just spoke to heard. We offer this scholarship for two years, so every year, you don’t have to get kicked out of the program.

We take families that are transitioning out of the federal childcare subsidy program into our program just to support continuity of care. And we’re really trying to disrupt the cycle of poverty for families. All of our work is, for the most part, in high-poverty areas, which covers probably two-thirds of Miami-Dade County. And so those three combinations of supports is what we put together in this area.

Sarah Savage

Thank you, Rachel. And Jen?

Jen Roberts

Hi, everyone. So it’s interesting because in many ways, the work that New Orleans is doing is kind of a blending and combination of the work that’s happening in Delaware and Miami.

So many of you may know that we recently, in April of 2022, passed also a voter referendum. We passed the property tax, which would be a $21 million investment in infant and toddler care here locally, which will, in the first year, give about a thousand seats for low-income children, so infant and toddlers.

But because of some of the work that happens at the state level, it’s actually eligible for a one-to-one state match. So that $20 million is actually a $40 million annual investment. And the term of the property tax is actually 20 years. And so we are able to now build a pretty long runway to building out some infrastructure to support low-income children as well as families.

Through some of the work that we’ve been doing over the years in partnership with several community organizations, that is actually for the next five years, both involving provision of seats… So that is just direct contracted seat model. We partner with next year 42 childcare centers.

This is an expansion of an existing program that we currently operate with 20 programs, so we’re about doubling in size. But it’s also investing about $6 million of that 21. And then, depending on the size of the state match, whatever that number is… So if it’s 6 million, it could be up to 12 million. In both workforce as well as facilities.

That’s one of our greater challenges is that even if we’ve got a hundred million dollars tomorrow, we don’t actually have the workforce prepared to enter those classrooms tomorrow, as was suggested by the first panel. And we also don’t have the buildings. One of the reasons that we don’t have the buildings is that we are, much like Miami, in a hurricane-prone zone. And so we have both neighborhood blight as well as we are still in recovery from both Hurricane Katrina, which was now nearly 20 years ago, but we are also still recovering from Hurricane Ida, which is now almost two years ago.

And so we have those challenges. And so we’ve actually built into the millage for the first five years a building of infrastructure that will support that. And so what we see as part of our program is we’re building infrastructure in workforce. We’re building infrastructure in facilities and space.

And then, as part of the seat program, we’re also building families. So we provide the seats, and we provide supports to the teachers and the directors themselves who are actually working in those programs. Because one of our biggest workforce challenges is not just the pipeline, which, of course, is a big challenge, but we’re losing about 60% of our workforce every year.

And so it’s also about stopping the sieve of losing those individuals and really ensuring that once they’re in, they’re supported, they are paid, they are compensated adequately and appropriately, and that they have career paths that make sense for them where they can actually grow and develop over time.

Sarah Savage

Great. Thank you, Jen. And these are all great big innovations, and it’s so interesting that they’ve happened at these different levels of state, county, and city. And I’d love to hear about who was at the table for designing what the effort was, and what did that sort of buy-in process look like?

It sounds like you all have this very firm grasp on some of the problems that you were responding to. So maybe that was… That’s a critical first step. But I’d love to hear from you all about this sort of design and just getting that buy-in to get these things off the ground. And maybe even, what role do you think it played to be doing it at the different levels? Because doing something at a state level is much different than doing something at a city level. So maybe we’ll go backwards this time. Jen, if you want to start?

Jen Roberts

Sure thing. So one of the things that I think has been the most effective about our model is that we have a public, private, and provider partnership model. And what that means is that our work has a real undergirding around transparency and public access to the work.

So all of our decisions around who gets the seats, how much they’re funded at, even the terms and the conditions of the CEA, of which… The aspect of the cooperative endeavor agreement with the city actually went through a public process, which is our coordinating board for early care and education.

And so that work is staffed by my organization and in partnership with NOLA Public Schools, but it’s actually led by a 20-person board, which is nearly 75% providers that each represent an individual funding stream. So that means that our public preschool providers have a seat, our Head Start providers have a seat, our Early Head Start providers have a seat, and our families have multiple seats.

And so what that meant for us is that even… There are checkpoints along the way. And so even with respect to our annual spending plan, I actually go to that board in addition to my own nonprofit board and seek their approval in addition to the City Council and the Mayor’s Office. And so there are recommendations that are being built in along the way.

But I would argue that even as part of the millage process, we have made the values around transparency and accountability and partnership with our providers and families, I think, tantamount. This work would not have happened if it had not been for our providers because, at its core, the providers and the childcare providers who work day in and day out with our families were the ones who were on the streets with the teams getting the millage passed.

And they are, in many ways, the sources of so much of the innovation that’s been happening. And so, for us, “Who was at the table?” I many ways, they were the table. And so we have tried to strike a real balance in ensuring that not only are their voices there, but they are really informing those processes at every step of the way.

And they check us. Oftentimes we’ll get phone calls like, “Hey, you didn’t do that right,” or, “You went too fast.” And we try to make sure that if we’re in the wrong, that we go back and we make sure that we make it right.

Sarah Savage

Right. That’s really helpful to hear how informative they have been. Rachel?

Rachel Spector

Yeah, our story is somewhat similar. We are also governed by a 33-member board of directors, inclusive of our superintendent to elected officials. And it was really important to spend a lot of time with our board to educate them about not only the importance of early childhood… Everyone doesn’t come from that space.

And really taking a look at the data in our community. Over 50% of the children in Miami-Dade County are arriving at kindergarten not prepared to learn and not prepared for kindergarten. And so, using data, we also created a provider advisory committee.

So I would say that our providers, as well as our families, have been probably one of the most significant contributors because we believe in elevating beneficiary voice. They’re the recipients of the services. Of course, we brought in some national experts, some local experts. In our situation, we aren’t government, so we have a little bit more flexibility.

We are leveraging a lot of… For example, we’re leveraging class assessments from our state, from the Department of Early Learning. And so we work very closely with our local early learning coalition, our local United Way, and all our county partners that operate Head Start.

So we really have everyone at the table, either through our board or in other strategic partnerships. And we spent a few years really listening and looking at data to make the decisions. And then, of course, I come back every year to our board. We report. Like Jen said, they check us. We’re consistently also learning and listening and revising, I guess, on the way.

Sarah Savage

Great. Thanks, Rachel. Kim?

Kimberly Krzanowski

Well, first of all, I would agree with both Rachel and Jen. Having multiple voices and having advisory committees and boards certainly are something that we are also dealing with over here in Delaware.

But I don’t know if I… I probably didn’t mention this, but our program is brand new. We are slated to begin July 1. And a dedicated team of people arrived in February to start working on this. I had been hired actually this month, last year, so one year. So we’ve been building up to this.

So advisory boards that reflect our community are definitely something that we are planning to do. Because of our unique partnership with our government or our Governor’s Office, our local Department of Education, and of course, Delaware State University, we had to ensure that voices and representation was there.

So I would say my answer would be we had to focus or we wanted to focus on that higher-ed community because we knew that was a pathway that already existed for the workforce, but for a variety of different reasons, the pathways weren’t as seamless as they could have been.

And Delaware is in the process of increasing qualifications, adding more seats to state pre-K, adding more seats to infant toddler care. So it’s really going through a really wonderful rebirth, if you will, of prioritizing funding and making sure access to families are there.

But to everyone’s point here on this panel, and then the earlier one, if we don’t have teachers and we don’t have ECE professionals, it doesn’t really matter if we have more seats. So our focus has been streamlining, looking at the higher-ed pathways, looking at the higher-ed connection. And being at Delaware State University was really important for this project, it being Delaware’s only HBCU.

And Delaware is very small. If you’ve never been there, you can go from the top to the bottom in less than three hours. And I’m probably being a little bit too generous. Probably, like, two hours. So although we’re a small state… So unlike Louisiana, unlike Florida, we are a small state.

But being a small state has benefits, and it also has challenges because sometimes you cannot get things up and running as quickly as you think you would. But on the other hand, because we’re small, once things are up and running, they can filter and funnel pretty quickly.

So I would say at the table, we had to have, again, our funders, the Governor’s Office, making sure they were there. But also being at DSU with that leadership has really given us innovative range to do what we need for the workforce in Delaware and the people of Delaware, the teachers, the assistant teachers, the directors, the people, to Jen’s point, who are doing this work day in and day out. They are excited, and they will be at the table.

So one last thing I wanted to share. The ECIC, we have… Again, we’re just building this. Our website launches on Monday. This is a brand-new project. We’re building the bridge while we’re flying the airplane or whatever that statement is. We’re doing it all together at once.

But we have designed five Cs that we are dedicated to doing, and it includes community, communication, collaboration, culturally competent, and compassion. And those are five things that we are implementing into all of our work. And voices of the field and their lived experiences are definitely number one.

Sarah Savage

Thank you so much for that, Kim. So we’re running out of time because whenever you have a great conversation, time just flies. But I’d love to end with… If we could go around. And I’m going to combine this question. I’d love to know what has been sort of the biggest challenge to this work.

I know, Kim, you just sort of got into it a bit, especially since you’re at a much earlier stage of implementation perhaps, but maybe the biggest challenge and biggest lesson learned. If we can just go around and try to speak to those, whoever wants to jump in. Jen’s off mute. So how about Jen?

Jen Roberts

Sure, I’ll go. I would say our biggest challenge has been… We really had less than a year to plan for implementation of year one of a really, really ambitious endeavor. And so, I think, for us, we’ve been sprinting as fast as we can. And because we have values around integrity and transparency and engagement with others and quality, those things are constantly at tension when we know that these are very real serious issues and we cannot wait. Families are waiting every single day, and we have 8,300 families who cannot wait for us to get it perfect.

And so I think that, for me, the biggest lesson I’ve had to also learn is that this can’t be linear. In so many ways, I would’ve loved to have put A before B and B before C and ensure that absolutely every single thing can be perfect. And it can’t because, at the end of the day, I know that we have to make the best decisions we can and be decisive and ensure that on day one, families are going to get the best opportunity that they possibly can. And I think I’ve had to, I think, evolve to be a little bit more comfortable with the risks that come with really big and bold ideas.

Sarah Savage

Thank you for that, Jen.

Rachel Spector

I would second that about just taking risks. I guess my biggest challenge, I think, would be that we really did our planning pre-pandemic mostly, and we didn’t expect that. And then we also didn’t expect that even though the $15 minimum wage law was being raised a dollar each year over five years, we didn’t expect that during year one, Target and Amazon and everyone would start paying $17 an hour.

So that, of course, affected the workforce. And then it also affected families that no longer qualified for the federal childcare subsidy. So we worked really fast to enroll families. We’re very proud that we have over 1200 families accepting our scholarships. However, we have over 2200 families sitting on the wait list.

So, like Jen, I feel like we need to… These are 2200 families that are calling and really making very difficult decisions day to day, as we heard in the first panel, which leads to a lesson learned. We need to fundraise. We needed to plan to have more money. The Children’s Trust generously invests almost $40 million annually into our early childhood interventions, but clearly, we can’t do it alone.

And so we are quickly ramping up and producing assets and materials and really trying to get the word out that we have many families in our community that are struggling. The high cost of living. The real estate market has exploded in Miami, so people can’t afford to live. The housing costs are out of control. So that’s sort of our biggest challenge right now and what we’re working on.

Sarah Savage

Thank you. And Kim, maybe…I’m sorry to just give you one minute, but-

Kimberly Krzanowski

That’s all right. I got it. I’d say time is our biggest challenge. And time for us implementing a program. I agree with Jen. We can’t let perfection get in the way of progress, but you want to do it right because people are counting on you to do this. And time for programs to hire folks who are educated and with stipends and whatnot to keep them retained and motivated. We’re running out of time.

To Rachel’s point, people are saying, “If you can only pay me this, I’m going to go work at Target or Chick-fil-A where I’m making more.” So the timing of it is what challenges us is that people have wanted this program, they are excited about it, they see the light at the end of the tunnel, but they need something now. And it takes a while to get a degree. It takes a shorter amount of time to get a credential, but it takes time. So we’re just hoping that people will just be patient with us and engage in the program and see the benefits of coming through and actually building up their career journey with us.

Sarah Savage

Kim, Rachel, and Jen, thank you so much for sharing with us. It sounds like a tremendous amount of heavy lifting and that is so informed by those that are most directly connected to this, providers and families. And it’s just been great having you. So thank you so much. And I would love to continue the conversation, but I’m going to hand it back over to Jennie Blizzard.

Jennie Blizzard

Okay. Thanks so much, Sarah, and thanks to our panelists. Thanks to you for being here today. But before we end the session, quickly, we have several small requests. You will receive a survey immediately after this event, so please fill that out so we can continue to improve and bring you timely and relevant topics.

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