The COVID-19 pandemic has widely exposed what early care and education (ECE) professionals have long known: our ECE system is not sustainable in its current patchwork configuration. Yet it is also vital to the functioning of our economy and must therefore be prioritized for systemic change.
This summer, we launched a webinar series, “Reinventing Child Care in Massachusetts” to facilitate a detailed discussion of what the sector needs, and we’re eager to share what we learned. More than 700 ECE professionals and other stakeholders participated and attendees gathered online to share ideas for reinventing an ECE system that is high-quality, accessible to all families, provides professional compensation to educators based on their skill and experience, has sufficient resources for professional and leadership development, and addresses racial inequities.
The webinars were conducted in partnership with Northern Essex Community College, Volta Learning Group, and Opportunities Exchange, a national leader in developing business strategies that sustain ECE programs and improve child outcomes. The ideas discussed in all three webinars were grounded in Opportunity Exchange’s policy brief framework in “Reinvent vs. Rebuild.”
Following the webinar series, we launched an Action Lab with 58 ECE stakeholders, most of whom attended the webinar series. They are meeting regularly through the end of this year to expand on the ideas put forth in the webinar series and generate additional ideas for reinventing ECE. Facilitated by Vital Village Networks, the participants formed four groups that are examining the following questions and developing ways to implement actionable ideas that emerge from the Action Lab:
- What does policy that supports equitable ECE funding and compensation looks like?
- What does an equitable funding stream for ECE in Massachusetts look like?
- What information and infrastructure is needed for data-driven funding decisions?
- What does the equitable evolution of ECE in Massachusetts look like?
Participants in the first webinar of “Reinventing Child Care in Massachusetts” discussed business strategies for improving the financial health of ECE programs. More than 300 teachers, administrators, and family child care owners tuned in for the session, which featured Louise Stoney, co-founder of Opportunities Exchange, her colleagues Sharon Easterling and Amy Friedlander, and Leadership Institute Executive Director Anne Douglass, PhD.
Stoney presented easy ways to streamline ECE business practices that only one-third of providers take advantage of and offered examples of innovations taking place around the country. The foundation for financial sustainability, she said, was business leadership, describing it as “the missing link we have not focused on.” She described five tools of business administration that could help reinvent ECE: automation and business coaching, administrative scale, de-centralized services, strategic cost modeling and rate-setting, and real-time supply and demand data.
Read a more detailed account of the first session and get links to short video highlights from the session on our blog.
The second session focused on the role of technology in improving ECE, primarily through the use of Child Care Management Systems (CCMS), which automate administrative tasks like invoicing, scheduling tours for prospective families, and enrollment management. These systems demonstrably save ECE providers time and money by automating administrative tasks, freeing up precious time and money to put toward professional development, boosting educator pay, making programmatic improvements, and marketing their business. Stoney described CCMS systems as “the infrastructure that we’re going to need in order to succeed” as we work to adapt and improve the ECE system in response to the COVID-19 Pandemic.
And yet, based on their research, Opportunities Exchange estimates that just 25-30 percent of providers use a CCMS. On top of that, research also shows that 69 percent of millennials—who currently comprise the majority of ECE consumers—pay bills either online or with direct debit, while just 14 percent say they pay their bills by mail. In other words, the ECE target market prefers to conduct business electronically.
Get more details on the second session, along with links to webinar slides and short video highlights.
At the third and final session of “Reinventing Child Care in Massachusetts,” we heard from a panel of Massachusetts ECE experts on how to innovate through shared services—networks of small ECE businesses banding together to share the cost of services like accounting, purchasing, enrollment management and other pricey, labor-intensive administrative needs, to free up time and money for program and staff development. The session also addressed the benefits of automation, the need for statewide innovation, how to maintain private innovation while treating child care as a public good, and advocating for support and services.
Douglass moderated the discussion. Our panel of experts consisted of Stoney, Grace Cruz, the Leadership Institute’s Early Childhood Support Organization Director; Lynne Mendes, our Leadership Program Director; Jennifer Jimenez, Family Child Care Business Owner, Entrepreneurial Leader, and a graduate of our ECE Small Business Innovation program; Katie Graham, Chief Strategy Officer, The Community Group; Samantha Aigner-Trewory, Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care; and Amy O’Leary, Director, Early Education for All Campaign at Strategies for Children.
Get more details on the final session, and links to presentation slides and short video highlights here.