Many states have begun or are beginning to develop comprehensive early childhood systems. Although there are different approaches, many of the elements are the same. The following are key components that we believe, based on findings in other states and our own experience, are critical components of an early childhood system.
Departments of Social Services, Education and Public Health all play a role in the provision and monitoring of early childhood programs in Connecticut. Providers are whipsawed by inconsistencies in standards and inspections, and differing reimbursement rates. The State must be restructured to deliver ECE more efficiently, effectively and equitably.
Few states have looked at this aspect of a system. Yet, if a system is really to work for children, families and communities, there needs to be attention to local planning and coordination of services, with attention to citizen voice and preferences.
ECE only works if there is high quality in the classroom, and quality depends heavily on the pre-service and in-service training of teachers. The State needs to develop a workforce with the skills and qualifications to deliver those good outcomes for children. This will be a long-term effort because capacity must be expanded in both the community and four-year colleges to train a bigger workforce.
Reimbursement rates drive workforce and therefore quality issues. The truth is, the existing system is subsidized on the backs of an inadequately compensated workforce. A system that rewards competence must be developed. In addition, compensation needs to align with goals for improving quality.
The parents most affected by early childhood policies are often not part of the decision making process. Parents must learn how to navigate the political landscape and develop the confidence to voice their opinions. Programs such as the Parent Leadership Training Institute and Parents Supporting Excellence in Education help parents to develop these skills.
Quality and access cost money. The State also expends a great deal of money on children, especially in late-stage, expensive intervention. We need to consider what revenue sources can be tapped to fund expansion and quality improvement.
According to the Connecticut Early Care and Education Report Card, produced by Connecticut Voices for Children: "In school year 2009-10, 95.9% of kindergarteners in District Reference Group A (Connecticut's wealthiest communities) had preschool experience, compared to 67.7% of kindergarteners in District Reference group I (Connecticut's poorest communities). Our data instrument for measuring preschool experience is in desperate need of reform, as it is currently based only on self-report, and does not include any information on the duration of the child's experience, where it took place, and whether the child received any state assistance."
In order to ensure accountability, data on children receiving early childhood services must be complete and accessible. Currently, it is difficult to even calculate the number of children served by state-subsidized early care and education programs due to the lack of coordinated data collection systems, data systems that do not take account of all funding streams, and systems that do not fully account for overlap between programs.