Delaware Business Roundtable Urges Next Governor to Invest in Early Education

March 13th, 2024

Category: Early Childhood Education

At a Glance...

-The 2024 edition of the influential Delaware Business Roundtable Investment Agenda recommends investments in early childhood education.
-The report makes direct links between access to child care and workforce participation.
-Specifically, the Investment Agenda recommends expanding eligibility for families and investing in the early childhood workforce.

Delaware must implement strategies to stabilize and expand access to and affordability of early childhood education.Delaware Business Roundtable 2024 Investment Agenda
 

The Delaware Business Roundtable recently released its Delaware Investment Agenda, a series of priorities and recommendations focused on investing long-term to build Delaware’s economy—with a particular focus on collaboration across siloes and sectors. The 2016 Growth Agenda informed the creation of the Delaware Prosperity Partnership when Governor John Carney took office, and the aspiration is that the 2024 Investment Agenda informs the state’s priorities beyond a single four-year election cycle.

A major strategic recommendation found in the Investment Agenda is to “Support equitable investment in early childhood education to increase access.” It’s the only recommendation related to education before higher education and workforce development. The Agenda mentions two primary reasons to invest early:

  1. Removing child care as barrier to employment. The report sees increasing availability and affordability of early childhood education as a key strategy to supporting workforce participation, noting its impact on retention and post-pandemic labor force participation.

 

40 percent of Delaware residents over the age of 16 were not in the labor force, which was the 10th highest percentage. The Annie E. Casey Foundation found that 13 percent of Delaware’s children had a family member who quit, changed, or refused a job due to difficulty finding childcare. The resulting challenges to families and employers cost Delaware $415 million in lost earnings, productivity, and tax revenue a year.Delaware Business Roundtable 2024 Investment Agenda

 

  1. Improving education outcomes by supporting children’s development during their most formative years. Looking long-term, the Agenda recommends investments for the future workforce of the state. Such investments would generate “substantial benefits for all, including better educational outcomes for historically disadvantaged students in the state….[which] is crucial to Delaware’s economic future.”

 

The report notes a compelling need to invest in this space,” as six out of seven young children in Delaware are unable to access early childhood education, adding, Delaware must implement strategies to stabilize and expand access to and affordability of early childhood education.” 

The recommendations are solid strategies for improving access and affordability for Delaware’s parents in the workforce. Those include:

  • Expand Eligibility for State Funded Child Care: Ensure wider access to early childhood education by expanding support to families earning over 200 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL). Currently Delaware provides support to families earning between 185 and 200 percent of FPL.”
  • “Invest in the early childhood education workforce through apprenticeship models, professional development, support for obtaining professional credentials, and equitable compensation and benefits.”

 

The state has made investments in workforce development, including recent investments in the Early Childhood Innovation Center at Delaware State University. Delaware has a long way to go to invest in programs sufficiently so they can provide equitable compensation and benefits (as recommended in the state target compensation scale).

  • Invest in high-quality programs. Continue to support evidence-based curricula, screening, and assessments (STAR Quality rating) to ensure program quality across early childhood education programs. The Kingswood Early Learning Academy is an example of an early childhood education program that has improved outcomes with this approach.”
    • Although STARs is no longer underway, the state is funding quality through its pre-K Early Childhood Assistance Program (ECAP), which aligns with Head Start quality standards, and through quality improvement awards.

 

The report also recommends a public-private partnership like the Michigan Tri-Share Child Care program that splits the cost of childcare equally between an employer, the employee, and the state. (Another model to consider is the Wisconsin Partner Up model, which focuses on the true cost of child care.) The model is growing slowly and presents challenges associated with employer-sponsored care, which offers child care to those who are fortunate enough to be employed by a specific employer.

Rodel and partners have long advocated that Delaware should treat early childhood care and education like a public good, investing as a state—and country—as we do for children when they turn five in public schools, like most developed countries do. National experts and research highlight that these selective approaches can reinforce inequities and rather propose a focus on the more systemic approaches laid out in the above recommendations.

The Investment Agenda reinforces Delaware business support of greater investment, including the Delaware Business Roundtable Education Committee prioritizing the issue for over a decade. In 2022, The Federal Reserve of Philadelphia and the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce released “Child Care is Everyone’s Business,” expressing support for greater investment. Additional business support for early childhood has come from the Kent Sussex Leadership Alliance, New Castle County Chamber, and Bethany Fenwick Chamber.

While we have made progress, investing at a higher rate and stabilizing a fragile system, the next governor has an opportunity to make transformational change through transformational investments that truly provide a strong foundation for Delaware’s children—serving the majority in high-quality, publicly funded environments.




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Author:
Madeleine Bayard

mbayard@rodelde.org

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