Early Childhood Investment: Cause for Applause
The Governor announced a new $22M investment in early care and education this morning, which is remarkable, given that the budget allowed for investments in only one new initiative (outside the one-time investments also included in Building Delaware’s Future Now). Kingswood Community Center served as the ideal host because their early childhood center recently earned a Star level 3 rating, the Delaware quality standard—and their students and teachers attended this morning’s announcement.
This truly is cause for applause—to coin a phrase used by Delaware Kids Count (to be released Monday at the Riverfront)—among the hundreds of stakeholders have advocated for these improvements for years, including Vision 2015, the Early Childhood Council, Policy Matters, Social Venture Partners, the business community, and so many others.
Governor Markell remarked that results, accountability, and rewarding excellence are the priorities for these investments, and this is the case—early child care providers will be rewarded for achieving levels of quality, but they will be provided the appropriate supports, including additional funds, to do so. The primary concern in the field has been the low wages of the workforce, and this investment will allow early childhood professionals to earn more and achieve higher levels of education.
The funds will support increased Purchase of Care (child care subsidies for working families) reimbursements; a $9M investment—a 20 percent increase on the current $45M program—to bring all reimbursement rates up to 65 percent of the market rate, plus 50 cents per child per day. Not only is it a significant increase, but it will provide huge funding increases to individual centers: for example, some centers serving large numbers of POC children will receive an additional $100,000 or more per year.
Another $13M will support the Stars quality rating system, tiered reimbursement based on quality, and grants and awards to programs to help them move up the rating scale. Stars programs receiving Purchase of Care that have achieved levels 3, 4 and 5 will be reimbursed at 80, 90, and 100 percent of the market rate respectively. These increases will yield almost double the reimbursement rate some centers are receiving for providing care to low-income children. With these additional funds, centers can pay their professionals fairly and retain the best and brightest.
Now, we still have to sort out some practical issues of implementing such an exciting policy. For example, how can we make sure that a 65 percent reimbursement rate remains something to be celebrated? If market rate is not indexed to inflation and a study is not conducted each year, 65 percent will quickly become insufficient to support quality. How do we ensure the appropriate level of support is provided to programs so that they move up the quality rating scale? And will increased salaries be enough to retain the workforce we know we need?
We look forward to working with and engaging stakeholders to make sure this important proposal is implemented to make the greatest impact possible. For now, we are applauding and looking forward to what’s in store: more quality program options for parents, clarity about the quality of programming, improved outcomes for children, and long-term economic development for the state.