Reflections on ECFC’s Deep Dive into the DC Early Learning System

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In March 2019, ECFC’s Spring Member Meeting took us on an early learning system deep dive using the District of Columbia’s universal pre-K3 experience and pre-K4 expansion over the past decade as a case study, and exploring the lessons and strategy of the Bainum Family Foundation and other public and private partners to build a comprehensive framework for early learning using a systems approach.   Through a series of in-depth site visits, keynote presentations, and breakout sessions intended to explore different components of an early learning system through the lens of cross-sector experts from across the District, the meeting considered: how funders and public and private partners in the District are working to build its early care and education (ECE) system; and lessons from this work that early childhood funders can apply to their own work in other cities, regions and states.

ECFC members from The Nicholson Foundation (New Jersey), The Oregon Community Foundation, and The Ford Family Foundation (Oregon) shared their reflections from the meeting, and ways they are applying the DC deep dive experience in their own states.

Shannon Ayers, Ph.D.
Senior Program Officer
The Nicholson Foundation, Newark NJ

Since joining ECFC, each meeting has provided an opportunity to learn from colleagues, understand the national landscape, and make new connections.  The Spring member meeting also provided a deep dive into the Birth-to-Three- for-All DC initiative.  This learning alone would have made the time in DC a successful and worthwhile visit.  However, this meeting brought an additional positive outcome with a special collective focus on the application of these learnings in the NJ context.

Six representatives from four New Jersey foundations focused on early childhood attended the ECFC Spring meeting.  Working together is nothing new to this team.  We are part of The Early Years Funders Collaborative, a New Jersey focused group that works collaboratively to identify, prioritize and act on the most promising opportunities to inform and influence early childhood policy.  The collaborative supports high-quality initiatives for children and their families from birth to age eight.  The ECFC meeting provided time for our New Jersey team to focus on the earliest years of the early childhood continuum and think strategically about a big win for the infants and toddlers of our state.

Lessons from DC

Keynote presenter Elizabeth Groginsky, Assistant Superintendent of Early Learning in the District’s Office of State Superintendent of Education, shared a rich history of the work in DC, and highlighted the need to leverage previous work and successes to provide the opportunity for building a comprehensive approach to early learning. The presentation explored DC’s Early Childhood System Approach to Child Health, Development, Education, and Well-Being through a teddy bear graphic depicting collective actions and indicators (the arms and legs) and intended results of the system (the body of the teddy bear).  This graphic is serving as an important guiding document to help guide our own thoughts on the collective actions, performance indicators, neighborhood indicators, and family and community indicators of an early learning system in New Jersey.

Other experiences at the ECFC Spring member meeting are shaping the conversation we are now having in New Jersey.  For example:

Discussions with Sara Watson, Senior Director, Policy for Bainum Family Foundation provided details on the formation and role of the Birth-to-Three Policy Alliance, formed in 2016 by the District’s leading children’s policy, advocacy and service nonprofits to ensure that the systems serving young children and their families work in a coordinated fashion to improve outcomes. Their work includes supporting policy advances including the passage of the “Birth-to-Three for All DC Act of 2018.”

An afternoon breakout discussion on public private partnerships helped us understand how DC is leveraging private- and public-sector investments to create systems change for infants, toddlers and their families. One critical success factor from that breakout discussion that we brought back to New Jersey is the importance of a comprehensive early childhood agenda that is not in competition for funding or importance with other critical initiatives for young children and their families.  We do not want to see an infant and toddler initiative versus preschool services expansion.

A site visit to Eagle Public Charter School to observe a school-based birth to three program, helped us understand the transition to pre-K and highlight school-based birth-3 mental health but also reminded us, through a warm handoff of a young child to his care giver during our visit, that children and their families must remain at the center of this work.

Applying these lessons in New Jersey

One difference between NJ and DC is that DC already had in place high quality, full-day Pre-Kindergarten education to 3- and 4-year-olds across all Wards in Washington, DC.  New Jersey has had a robust high-quality state-funded preschool program for our highest need districts for over 20 years.  Until recently, NJ’s state-funded, full-day pre-k was available in only 35 communities. With the work of PreK Our Way and others in raising the priority of preschool expansion and funding in the Governor’s budget – along with strong support from legislative leadership, the 2018-2019 school year has 110+ communities funded for pre-k expansion.

In NJ we have much to build on.  Right From The Start NJ is a public awareness campaign created to educate the public at large and New Jersey policy makers about the critical importance of the early years of child development, from birth to three.  New Jersey is also proud to be a Think Babies state focusing on  quality affordable child care, infant mental health, and home visiting services.  Our state agencies continue to work on early childhood system building with the Preschool Development Grant Birth Through Five (PDG B-5), a competitive federal grant awarded to 46 states and territories this year, designed to improve states’ existing early childhood landscape by building upon existing federal, state, and local early care and learning investments.

With so much to build on in NJ, we will need to rally and bring together  those who have been working for children for some time, as well as new and unexpected partners focusing on infants and toddlers.

The New Jersey team is grateful for the trail blazing done by the Bainum Family Foundation in DC and will examine the work of other states such as Vermont and Oregon as we continue our learning and plan the next steps in a strategic and collective manner.

Mary Louise McCormick
Director of Education Programs
Oregon Community Foundation, Portland OR

 Bright Beginnings Site Visit Reflection

Staff, board members and parents welcomed us to the beautiful new Bright Beginnings infant/toddler center, a center-based program focused on homeless children and infant-toddler mental health and located in Washington, D.C.’s Anacostia neighborhood. The new facility is one of two sites where the organization offers a comprehensive array of services to families and children experiencing homelessness.

Since its launch in 1990, Bright Beginnings’ goal has been to help families move from crisis to self-sufficiency, while supporting children’s development through home- and center-based early care and education. We heard about: the center’s home-visiting program, offered through a partnership with Early Head Start; how trauma-informed and literacy-informed approaches are infused in all programs; a new Fatherhood Initiative (30% of the fathers served by Bright Beginnings are primary caretakers of their children); parent cafés, designed to impart parenting information as well as develop leadership skills; and wrap-around services like mental health, nutrition and workforce development programs. And we were able to visit a few classrooms and see learning and play in action. The center even stays open until 11:30 p.m., offering care for children 6 weeks to five years old for parents attending classes or working late hours.

Portland, like DC, has a high rate of homelessness, and other communities throughout Oregon have been struggling to address a housing affordability crisis, as well. Oregon Community Foundation, like many in the philanthropic sector, has been looking at the causes of our communities’ housing and homelessness challenges and exploring strategies to alleviate housing crunches as well as support those affected by them. I was impressed by Bright Beginnings’ two-generation focus, and will share it with colleagues in Oregon as a promising strategy for longer-term reduction of the cycle of poverty and homelessness.

Abby Bush
Associate Program Officer, Early Childhood
Oregon Community Foundation, Portland OR

Family Child Care Homes Site Visit Reflection

During the ECFC Spring meeting, I was fortunate enough to snag one of the limited spots to visit two family child care homes– the Kiddie Academy and Amen Family Child Development.  The educators and children were so kind to share their space with us for the morning. Both spaces devoted the first floor of the building to the classroom space, with the educators and family living on the upper stories. It was clear that these settings were an integral part of their communities in Wards 7 & 8 of the District, and the educators reflected the culture of the children. The warm atmosphere included distinct spaces, with room for creative play, dancing space and secure outdoor access. I was impressed with how both locations were able to create zones within the space that allowed for transitions to take place throughout the day. The emerging shared services framework was helping the small business owners to access centralized services that freed their time for nurturing and guiding the young children in their care.

Following the ECFC meeting, as I participated in conversations around Multnomah County’s (where Portland is located) Preschool for All planning effort, I brought in the lessons learned about these vital services in the DC family child care homes, and shared services will be part of the support structure for the mixed-delivery preschool program. And as Oregon explores the expansion of shared services models in urban, rural and in-between communities, we will be drawing on the lessons learned from Washington, D.C. and other cities. 

Christy Cox
Senior Program Officer
The Ford Family Foundation, Roseburg OR

Facility Funds to Support Quality Breakout Reflection

The ECFC Spring member meeting was full of great content.  An afternoon breakout session focused on Facility Funds to Support Quality, featuring the Bainum Family Foundation’s Early Learning Quality Fund,  Reinvestment Fund, Public Health Management Corporation, and a family child care home owner from Amen Family Child Development held several learnings with linkages to work in Oregon.

Facility Fund to Support Quality Session

Oregon Linkages

Bainum’s project focuses on improving quality and expanding care for children 0-3 in Wards 7 and 8. They based their age and geographic priorities on demand mapping.

Oregon’s recent Child Care Desert report showed only 9% of 0-2 year olds in non-metro areas have access to child care (13% in metro).

Bainum provides capital funds for family child care (up to $50,000) and centers (up to $200,000). Funds are structured as PRI’s with 0% interest and 1/5 of the loan forgiven per year over 5 years using annual “forgiveness metrics” (e.g. still in business, submitting annual budgets, etc.).

The Ford Family Foundation is just finishing a pilot in partnership with Western Oregon University to offer capital grants up to $5,000 to family child care providers in 3 rural/remote counties. Awards targeted providers to become licensed, improve quality, and/or expand number of children served.

Participants in the capital project were “low hanging fruit” in that they were already involved in the Quality Improvement Network (business practice support, FECERS and ITERS observations, etc.)

We are learning from a project operated by Micro Enterprise Services of Oregon for child care owners based on relationship building, 24-month technical assistance and business coaching paired with Individual Development Accounts.

The providers involved in the DC project are part of a shared service alliance (SSA).

Oregon is part of a Pritzker Children’s Initiative TA cohort working with Louise Stoney/Opportunity Exchange to explore and pilot SSA in 3 regions of our state.  I am most interested the rural region that is participating; initial exploration shows that it might be hard to have enough providers buying into the SSA for it to be self-sustaining.

Despite the differences in our geographic and philanthropic boundaries – the DC early learning system has many applicable lessons to our own work, and we look forward to continuing our reflection on our role in improving early learning systems in Oregon.

Photo credit: DCsystemfeature

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