Must Read BlogPapers April 28, 2020

Making the Grade: Early Childhood Education Operating Realities and Perspectives in the Current Crisis

We hope you had a pleasant weekend and a productive start to the week. Today, we offer perspective on the early childhood education community, including insights drawn from a pulse survey of ECE leaders and teachers conducted late last week.

Building on our previous surveys distributed to parents and K-12 teachers, we solicited feedback from early childhood professionals across the nation to better understand the current state of their centers – open or closed? – and the initiatives they have implemented to reach and support their children and families. We also sought to understand distinctions between public – i.e., Head Start, public PreK – and private models at this time given meaningfully different funding sources for operations. We have highlighted selected findings below; more detailed data and analysis can be accessed in our presentation, available for download.

Thank you for your continued interest in this series. Feel free to contact us with questions or to share updates on your organization; we look forward to continuing the conversation.

Adam Newman, Founder and Managing Partner

Chris Curran, Founder and Managing Partner

Tanya Rosbash, Director

How is the early childhood education sector navigating the pandemic?

The State of ECE Closures. Across the nation, states are taking different approaches to early childhood education (ECE) program availability, balancing significant needs with potential risks to children, families and staff. As of this week, 29 states have allowed ECE centers to remain open, and 20 states have ordered their closure with exceptions for essential workers; only Rhode Island has required childcare programs closed altogether.

States Pursue Novel Partnerships. The challenging circumstances for caregivers and still-working parents have led to interesting public-private partnership including Massachusetts’ Department of Early Education and Care relationship with, and Tennessee’s Department of Human Services’ agreement with the YMCA and the Boys & Girls Clubs; both are structured to provide low- or no-cost childcare solutions to essential workers.

Stimulus Funding Available for ECE. Many ECE programs theoretically have access to assistance through the CARES Act and subsequent stimulus funding bills, although securing participation the various programs has been challenging or still emergent. Both non-profit and for-profit ECE providers with less than 500 employees (i.e., “small businesses”) are eligible to apply for ~$376B in funding through various CARES Act programs. Larger ECE providers can explore access to resources through CARES Act funding allocated to the Treasury’s Exchange Stabilization Fund; ostensibly, up to $454B in loans and guarantees will be available to mid-sized businesses – i.e., those between 500 and 10,000 employees – although the lending program is not yet established.

Head Start programs were direct beneficiaries of the CARES Act, with $750M in funding for active programs; of this total, $500M is available to help programs run supplemental summer initiatives with the balance available for one-time investments in response to the pandemic. Other notable federal funding inflows for early childhood education include an additional $3.5B for the Child Care and Development Block Grant.

What are the experiences and perspectives from ECE center leaders and teachers?

Differences Exist across Public and Private Segments. While nearly all respondents at public Pre-K and Head Start/ Early Head Start programs (i.e., public segment) report their centers are closed, more than one-third of respondents at independent centers, private schools, regional and national ECE networks, and family/ in-home programs (i.e., private segment) remain open. At the same time, nearly 90% of public segment respondents are conducting various remote learning and engagement activities, as compared to only ~55% of private segment respondents. Both groups felt reasonably prepared for the transition, with just over one-third of leaders and teachers reporting feeling unprepared for the current remote model.

Operating Strategies Evolve in Current Environment. Of those centers currently operating, 37% have reduced the number of children they are serving and >20% have adjusted the hours they are open. From a daily routine perspective, nearly one-quarter have modified their activities to ensure social distancing, while ~20% are encouraging or requiring staff to wear personal protective equipment. Large (>250 children) and mid-sized centers (50-250) tend to be more actively engaged with their children and families including live and video-recorded sessions, activities assigned to children, referrals to families of digital resources. This latter dynamic – which has broad adoption – highlights the strong influence opportunity that exists at the intersection of the center/ school and home in ECE, somewhat different from the more traditional K-12 system. Download the research to see more.

Concerns for Children Vary Based on Segment, Timeframe. Supporting children’s social and emotional development is the greatest concern for ECE leaders and teachers in both the short term (2-3 months) and longer term (6-12+ months); this is consistent across both public and private segment respondents. After this, short-term needs vary by segment, with public ECE respondents focused on supporting families and children broadly and their academic development, while those in the private segment are concerned about academic development and their center’s business viability. Longer term, children’s academic development rises in importance, as does the overall sample’s concern for enrollment and funding/ financing issues.

Hope Springs Eternal. Despite nearly 75% of ECE leaders not having a plan in place to account for the current disruption caused by the pandemic, most are optimistic regarding their center’s future. Among those centers currently closed, barely any expect to be closed a year from now, and only 30% anticipate being open with reduced enrollments. Among respondents at currently open centers, the prognosis is more bullish.

Key reads from the past week

Most states have now closed elementary and secondary schools for the remainder of the academic year

The $13.2B in emergency relief funds are now available to support continued learning for K-12 students

Request for temporary waiver of special education law declined

States working to decide on revised graduation requirements for high school seniors

Usage continues to skyrocket for some education technology companies

SAT and ACT state they will be back in the Fall, amidst institutions going test optional