The Win-Win Solution for Early Education Infrastructure Challenges

September 5, 2019

Takeaways

Early ed facilities currently can't meet demand, find space, or access investments to address their challenges.
Coordinating early education programs in mixed-use space is a win-win for helping families and growing communities.

On Tuesday, August 27, the Chamber Foundation partnered with Linda Smith, Director of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s (BPC) Early Childhood Development Initiative, to host a Twitter chat discussing infrastructure challenges for early childhood education facilities. In a span of 45 minutes, the participants of this chat were able to provide more than one million Twitter accounts with data, research, and case studies arguing for early childhood education to gain a seat at the table where infrastructure conversations are happening. 

The Chamber and Chamber Foundation often engage in infrastructure conversations, but we have yet to approach this topic from an early childhood education lens. So why now?

We have heard from state and local chambers, who are trying to find solutions in their communities, that the supply of care can’t meet the demand. We also know that childcare facility issues are often a significant barrier to increasing the supply of childcare providers. Therefore, the more we engage in these conversations, the more we realize that we need to lend our voice to the conversation to help give these challenges more attention. 

The National Challenge

  • Meeting Demand: There is no question that today’s parents struggle to find safe, affordable and nurturing places for their children while parents pursue employment or education. The Bipartisan Policy Center’s Framework on Early Childhood Education, launched in May of this year, cites that nearly 129,000 center-based programs are serving seven million children nationwide, and another one million in-home providers serve more than 2.7 million children. The demand is there, and yet 51 percent of Americans live in areas of the country with a lack of supply, where licensed programs can accommodate fewer than a third of the children in the community. 
  • Finding the Space: For early childhood education and care providers, finding space is often cited as the number one challenge to beginning or expanding a program. Childcare businesses operate on tight budgets. Demand for housing and office space often prices childcare out of the real estate market. And for existing early ed facilities, many in their current state are not meeting the most basic health and safety standards.
  • Dedicated Investments: Though costs vary widely, the average annual cost per child is around $11,000, and often the closest high-quality facility requires a 45 minute commute. In 2018, Congress approved historic increases in federal aid for early childhood education, but as states determine the priority of need for that funding, those investments rarely go to the physical infrastructure of early learning environments.

Community planners have long recognized the connections between affordable housing, traffic congestion, jobs, and education as key drivers of where families choose to live. A key component to that equation is childcare. Coordinating early education programs in mixed-use space is a win-win, helping families access public transportation, childcare, education, and housing all in one community.

The Chat

In August, we published a case study on Build Up for San Mateo County’s Children (Build Up SMC), a multi-sector initiative focused on solving childcare shortages county-wide. Inspired by how Build Up SMC is using their initiative to boost the local economy and recruit and retain a skilled workforce in the region, and with the recent release of the BPC framework, it made sense to use a Twitter chat to bring all of this information and expertise together and engage a larger audience in a conversation that was already happening. 

State and local chambers of commerce across the country are already working hand-in-hand with city planners and developers to focus on the economic development of their communities. They’re already at the table during conversations when city planners are deciding how to re-use or develop buildings and land. Bringing childcare into these conversations is a natural extension of that work and a value add for everyone at that table. We just need to talk about it. 

To set up the chat, we wanted the business community and others engaging in this issue in their community to walk away with four steps to action: 

  • Assess the Need. Partner with community foundations and local businesses to do a needs assessment and better understand the childcare and early education needs of local families. 
  • Learn the Landscape. Before designing solutions, make sure you fully understand early childhood education facility licensing, regulatory requirements, zoning ordinance, building code, and other related challenges.
  • Expand your networks. Convene and educate the individuals that deal directly with this issue in your community (real estate developers, city planners, etc.). Welcome them as part of your team.
  • Don't reinvent the wheel. Use existing research, data, and best practices to drive public awareness, public policy, and publicly funded initiatives where possible. 

What we learned from this Twitter chat is that individuals, organizations, and states are more engaged than we had realized and a plethora of resources and data studies have already been developed. We hoped this chat would provide an opportunity to share knowledge and lift up impactful work that is already taking place, and that’s exactly what happened.

A Few Highlights 

Thank you to everyone who joined this conversation. We look forward to seeing you the next time we host a Twitter chat. Have an idea for the next topic or want to share your story? If you’re interested in telling us more, drop us a note