Early Ed Watch

Guest Post: Using Tax Credits to Promote Quality Early Care and Education

By Louise Stoney

Nearly every state has, or is developing, an early care and education quality rating and improvement system (QRIS). But many states find that only a small percentage of providers participate and that parents often do not use the system to guide decision-making. Last year Louisiana enacted an innovative tax credit package designed to address these concerns by offering financial rewards for those who participate in Quality Start, the state's new QRIS.  Legislation authored by Senator Ann Duplessis, a banker who represents parts of New Orleans,  created four  separate, refundable School Readiness Tax Credits (SRTC)  available to families, child care providers, child care teachers and directors and businesses that support child care.

Tune In: Online Radio That Speaks to Early Childhood

We've noticed that several early childhood sites have jumped into radio and podcasting recently. You can now download or stream programs that focus on everything from raising a self-motivated child to how childcare providers are navigating through turbulent times. Tune in to NAEYC Radio (for the National Association for the Education of Young Children), NACCP Radio (for the National Association of Child Care Professionals) and Head Start Radio, to name some of the more recent converts.

For educators and policy makers tired of reading dry reports, these podcasts are a great break. And for busy moms and dads with little time to read, here's a chance to asborb helpful new information while folding laundry. To this development we say: Hear, hear.

Here's a sampling of specific podcasts that have recently come across our digital desks:

A Rare Glimmer in the Lone Star State

Just before closing out their biennial legislative session, the Texas legislature passed new pre-k quality enhancement legislation that pre-k advocates have been pushing for in the state.

The bill, HB-130, establishes an "Enhanced Quality Full-Day Pre-Kindergarten Program" that allows the Commissioner of Education to make grants to school districts to offer high-quality, full-day pre-k programs that meet enhanced quality standards, including a maximum class size of 22 students, an adult-to-child ratio of at least one adult for every 11 children, and a requirement that every classroom have at least one certified teacher. These quality standards are higher than those for Texas' existing pre-k program -- the nation's largest -- which does not set a maximum class size or adult-to-child ratio.

Keeping Innovation Alive in Minnesota

Yesterday we wrote about how private organizations in Minnesota -- namely business groups and non-profit foundations -- have spearheaded a campaign for more public investment in early education in the state. In addition to advocating for policy, several non-profit organizations actively operate or finance programs to improve children's school readiness and overall well-being. Today we look at how these organizations can continue to play an innovative role in future early childhood policy.

While there are many private sector groups that advocate for an expanded, better-coordinated system of early childhood care and education in Minnesota, several of them practice what they preach. For example, the Minnesota Early Learning Foundation (MELF) and Invest Early, a program in rural Itasca County, operate programs directly, including early childhood health programs and preschools. But these private organizations know that they will not be able to achieve their goals unless the state substantially increases investment in early education.

Planning for Head Start Stimulus Expansion

June 23 is the deadline for Head Start programs to submit applications to the Department of Health and Human Services if they want to use stimulus funds to expand their programs and serve more children. (Programs wishing to expand Early Head Start have a deadline of July 9.) This week we heard that the Head Start program in Alexandria, Va., plans to apply for $400,000 in stimulus funds to serve 54 more children, bringing enrollment up to 306. The program is run by a non-profit organization called The Campagna Center, which also is applying for funds to open more slots for infants and toddlers through its Early Head Start program.

Spurring Innovative Policy in Minnesota

Public-private partnerships are very common in early education, but what does the "private" half of these important relationships look like? Today and tomorrow, we take a look at Minnesota, a state where the private sector -- including businesses and non-profit foundations -- has assumed a prominent role in advocating for early education policy. Tomorrow we examine how the private sector can help shape what that policy might look like.

Of all the states where you might expect to find a robust early education system, Minnesota might be near the top of the list. After all, the North Star State is home to some of the country's most prominent early childhood researchers, including Arthur Reynolds at the University of Minnesota and Minneapolis Federal Reserve economists Art Rolnick and Bob Grunewald. And we can't forget that Minnesota is the site of the fictional, farcical and fabulous Lake Wobegon, where  "all the children are above average."

The Critical Importance of Curriculum

Last week Common Core, a national group that advocates for a rigorous, content-rich curriculum covering the full range of academic subjects for all children, published a report looking at curriculum and learning expectations for students in nine countries that outperform the United States on major international assessments. Their conclusion: These countries outperform us in part because they have higher expectations and expose students to a broader, more in-depth curriculum. Key quote from Common Core director Lynne Munson, "We believe that the content of a student’s education has a greater influence on his level of achievement than does delivery or accountability systems. So reform ideas like standards or tests don’t impress us unless they make content a priority. Thus far, the debate in this country over those measures has discounted the importance of content." Worth checking out.

Some Thoughts about Playful Learning on My Daughter's Last Day of Preschool

One day my youngest daughter, Gillian, came home from preschool telling a glorious tale. Her class of 4-year-olds had baked a giant gingerbread man, but he escaped from the school's oven. He left crumbs in the hallway and couldn't be found in the stairwell. "Everybody gathered up together and put raisins on the floor and made a trap," she told me. It worked: "We ate him all up."

I ate it up too -- the story, I mean. To me, this was preschool at its best. The fact that Gillian was utterly caught up in the drama - "It really happened Mom, I promise" - was icing on the cake, er, cookie.

Today, Gillian is experiencing her last day of preschool, so I can't help but spend a little time reflecting on what made her preschool experience so rich and worthwhile. Yes the art projects were fabulous, the playground time was abundant (Gillian's dreams almost always feature the tire swing), and circle time was just what she needed to learn to sit still for a few minutes and take turns listening to those around her.

Shakira's Early Education Advocacy

The New York Times Magazine has an interesting article about pop singer Shakira's efforts to encourage Latin American governments to invest more in education, development, and health of their youngest children. Key graf:

Celebrity philanthropy, rock ’n’ roll philanthropy, is no longer a novelty, but what Shakira and ALAS were trying was indeed new. They were looking to use the power of pop to help the populations not of distant impoverished lands but of the Ibero-American world from which they come. They have a policy focus — early-childhood nutrition, education and medical care — that is on a scale beyond the reach of private charity. It requires the steady effort of the state.

Shakira and her fellow advocates are focusing on Latin American countries that are poorer than the United States. But you could say something similar--about the need for increased investment in children's wellbeing and development, and that such investment requires a more robust public role--in the United States as well.

How Title I Early Childhood Funds Could Extend to Community-Based Providers

We've been hearing the last few weeks about growing opposition to the administration's proposals to set aside $500 million in Title I funds to provide incentive grants to school districts that use new Title I funds they received under the stimulus to invest in pre-k. We're not surprised. When the stimulus bill was moving through Congress, the administration sought to set aside 15 percent of Title I funds in the stimulus for pre-k programs, but that proposal encountered opposition from school boards and the school administrators' association, who succeeded in getting that proposal removed from the final legislation. 

The administration's current proposal, which provides an incentive rather than an absolute set-aside, is a kinder, gentler version of that effort, but established education groups still aren't that crazy about it, in part because it transfers funds from Title I grants to LEAs to use for this purpose. In addition, groups that represent community-based pre-k and child care providers are up in arms about the proposal, because they fear that if school districts increase their pre-k spending, it will create competition that will hurt existing community-based providers.