Delaware Continues to Untangle Its Early Childhood Governance
As advocates and experts have noted, Delaware’s early childhood governance is fragmented, leading to an inefficient and complex system for families and professionals to navigate.
Over the past decade, Delaware made progress on consolidating, streamlining, and simplifying the many governing bodies that manage early childhood services and education.
Now, two recent changes move Delaware one step closer to consolidating its ever-complex system: a new bill that would make early learning services and transitions stronger for families and children, and the involvement of the Delaware Department of Education (DDOE) in a key child care grant.
What does the bill do?
This week, Senate Bill 136 (SB 136) was introduced. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Laura Sturgeon, transfers responsibility for early intervention services for children ages birth to three from the Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) to DDOE.
For context, the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) requires states to provide an early intervention services system for eligible infants and toddlers and their families. Delaware’s Infant and Toddlers Early Intervention Program, which serves children from birth to age three (or what is known as IDEA Part C), currently lives under the Department of Health and Social Services, while the intervention program for children ages three to five (known as IDEA Part B) currently lives under DDOE.
By linking both age ranges together under the DDOE, this bill creates a more seamless transition of services from birth through age five for young children and their families.
What about the child care grant?
The grant program, called the Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF) does two things: (1) provides resources to states that enable low-income parents to work or pursue education and training while promoting the learning and development of their children, and (2) provides funding to enhance the quality of child care for all children.
Currently in Delaware, the CCDF is administered by DHSS. It was recently announced in Delaware’s CCDF draft plan that the grant program will now be co-administered by DDOE and DHSS. This is an important change that improves coordination between advisory bodies that are currently responsible for early learning governance. Co-administration of CCDF is also important because CCDF funding is already split between DDOE and DHSS. Funds from CCDF go to child care licensing and quality initiatives currently governed by DDOE. At DHSS, they go toward Purchase of Care, the state subsidy that helps centers cover child care tuition for low-income families.
Why is the consolidation of early childhood governance important?
If the preceding paragraphs sound complex and a little confusing, well, therein lies the problem. The administration and oversight of early childhood education in Delaware is complicated. For starters, early childhood education does not solely live in the state’s department of education. Early childhood programs have to work across three state departments for licensing, quality ratings, and funding between DDOE, DHSS, and the Department of Services for Children, Youth and their Families. Clearly not the most efficient use of their time.
Families often describe feeling discouraged, isolated, or lost when dealing with early learning bureaucracy—as we heard via the public feedback received during the strategic planning process for a preschool development grant (known as the PDG), led by the Office of Early Learning and Early Childhood Council. Professionals also find the system difficult to navigate, especially with political, regulatory, and administrative obstacles in place.
The Vision Coalition’s plan for Delaware education, Student Success 2025, noted the unaligned early learning system and recommended greater consolidation in early learning governance. It calls for “an aligned state governance structure to enable unified and efficient decision making.”
Delaware is slowly untangling the knot that took decades to create. Today there are eight divisions (instead of 11) related to early childhood education spread across three government agencies. We hired our first-ever Associate Secretary for Early Childhood Support, and moved regulatory offices over to the Department of Education for consistency.
SB 136 and the involvement of DDOE in governing the CCDF are both the next logical step in consolidating governance. Both changes would put us closer to achieving the goal of a streamlined and simplified early childhood system that is efficient for both families and early learning professionals.