“Educare seeks to take the nation’s best early childhood research from the lab to the street” (Buffett Early Childhood Fund, 2009, 2).
Educare is a model for providing comprehensive full day, full year early child care and education services to at-risk families. Specifically, the program works with parents and children who are transitioning from welfare (Temporary Aid to Needy Families, or TANF) to work. The Educare Program model was designed by the Ounce of Prevention Fund and the first Educare center was opened in 2000 in Chicago. There are currently 9 Educare centers in the U.S. with another 3 in development.
In order to create an Educare center, local philanthropic and advocacy partners work together to obtain public dollars for Early Head Start, Head Start and child care. The funding is then combined to create a unified funding stream to provide comprehensive services for children from birth through age 5. Once a blended funding stream is established for the support of the center, local partners supply private dollars to design and build an Educare center and hire the support staff to run the programs.
Each Educare center is designed to serve between 140 and 200 at-risk children. Each classroom is led by a teacher with a Bachelor’s degree, and is also staffed by an assistant with an Associate’s degree along with a community volunteer. Each center has a supervisor with a Master’s degree in early childhood development. In addition to teaching staff, each center employs social workers to assist families in obtaining needed wrap around services, including health care. The program utilizes the most successful elements from nationally proven early childhood models such as Perry Pre-School and the Abecedarian project to design and implement their curriculum.
Providing services through an Educare Center begins with pre-natal care for children’s mothers. a third of the space at budget of each Educare Center is devoted to education and support to help parents establish strong relationships with their children and to help them balance the demands of work and family life. Parents are also expected to take an active role in the day to day operations and governance of the Educare center. Each Center is required to hire a Ph.D. level evaluator who regularly sends data on the center’s outcomes to the University of North Carolina where it is used to analyze how effectively services are being provided and children’s outcomes are being improved (Buffett Early Childhood Fund, 2009).
How large is the need for early care and education services among at-risk families in Memphis?
Currently, about 7,949 (30% of the eligible population) at-risk children (0-5) are being served by DHS child care funds. 95 (2% of the eligible population) children between birth and age 3 are served by Early Head Start; 2,296 (22% of eligible children) are served by Head Start and an additional 2,540 (24% of eligible children) are served by public pre-kindergarten (CUCP, 2009). All of these programs currently only reachat-risk families and their children. Additionally, with the exception of DHS child care, none of these programs provides full day, full year child care options. It is difficult to provide a complete estimate of eligible children who are not receiving services because there is overlap in the populations of children receiving different publicly funded care. For instance, many of the children who are participating in Early Head Start, Head Start, and public pre-K are also receiving before and after care from DHS funded child care providers. There are also many children in the population of families who are legally eligible for DHS child care, but only when there are funds available to cover them.
What would it mean to take the Educare model to scale in Shelby County?
In order to provide full day, full year care using the Educare model, we would need about 100 centers to provide care for all the children who are considered at-risk by virtue of their families being TANF recipients or transitioning off of TANF (CUCP estimate, 2009). From the ground up, the cost of an Educare center is daunting. The most inexpensive center in their system was created for $4 million dollars (Buffett, 2009). However, there is some potential for obtaining new funding dollars for an initiative of this type. Last month, the House of Representatives created the Early Learning Challenge Fund to provide a billion dollars a year for the next 8 years in order to provide grant money for states to undertake one or more of the following activities:
• Undertake activities to develop the components of an early learning system;
• Undertake such activities that will allow the state to become eligible and competitive for a Quality Pathways Grant;
• Prioritize the activities that improve the quality of early learning programs serving low income children.
The grants are designed to be dispersed for up to 3 years. In order to obtain funding, states must provide matching funds in each program year (Pre-K Now, July 2009). The grant funding is large enough that if we could coalesce public will around providing comprehensive full day, full year care for at-risk children in the city and convince the private foundation and business communities to provide matching funds to obtain the grants, we could obtain the funding to build an Educare system in Memphis. The most positive potential benefit is that we could have a vast improvement in the quality of early care and education services for at-risk children that could fundamentally improve our children’s brain development, school preparation and life successes.
Buffett Early Childhood Fund (2009). Educare. Omaha, NE: Author. Accessed 6th August, 2009. http://buffettearlychildhoodfund.org/downloads/EDUCARE.pdf
Center for Urban Child Policy (July 2009). Early Childhood Comprehensive Systems: Setting Our Children – And Our City – On a Path to Success. Memphis: The Urban Child Institute. http://www.theurbanchildinstitute.org/Download.php?fileId=4a672cd7c4e4c5.32385947
Pre-K Now (July 2009). Memorandum: Early Learning Challenge Fund. Washington D.C.: Author. Accessed 6th August, 2009. http://www.preknow.org/documents/ELCF_Post_Mark-up_Memo_7-24-09.pdf