Federal aid will help Florida boost quality in child care

  • August 9, 2016
  • /   Shannon Nickinson
  • /   education

The Escambia School District is posting VPK yard signs like these throughout the community to encourage
parents to register their children for voluntary prekindergarten. Photo credit: Escambia School Disrtict.

The push to bolster quality measurements into Florida’s child care network got access to a little extra brainpower recently.

The U.S Department of Health and Human Services announced that Florida is one of nine states and territories that will get aid through the new Early Childhood Training and Technical Assistance System.

HHS calls the overall effort the Impact Project and Rodney MacKinnon, executive director of the Florida Office of Early Learning says it comes with access to expertise about how quality rating systems elsewhere in the country have worked.

“It doesn’t come with funds attached,” MacKinnon says. “It comes with federal assistance. We’ve got a lot of statewide quality initiatives and there are local ones, and we going to use this to evaluate these initiatives, determine our capacity to expand them, to determine ways to align them.

“Ultimately that will raise the quality of childcare.”

Some states will use the award to build professional development training for current childcare workers or improve monitoring and licensing efforts. Florida will use the resources to support the state’s early learning performance funding program.

“They have a lot expertise to offer,” MacKinnon says. “They have people who have implemented (quality rating improvement systems) in other states.”

That feedback may prove helpful, MacKinnon says, as the state works to evaluate a statewide three-year pilot program that offers funding to providers who invest in staff development and other areas

The program requires providers to participate in training, classroom observations, pre and post assessments, as well spend the money allocated on quality improvements. MacKinnon said this spring that Escambia and Santa Rosa counties were the only two counties in the state whose providers didn’t apply to the pilot program.

As of this fiscal year, three centers in Escambia County completed the contracts to participate in the performance funding program, says Bruce Watson, executive director of the Escambia Early Learning Coalition.

The 11 early learning coalitions with Quality Rating Improvement Systems are:
Palm Beach
Southwest Florida
Flagler and Volusia
Escambia will be the 12th.

MacKinnon notes that there also are an array of locally developed quality rating systems across the state. The Impact Project could help give the state expertise and resources to help gauge which systems work well and which need improvement.

“We’ve got a lot of competing ideas on what constitutes quality,” MacKinnon says. “We feel teacher-child interactions are a key component of that. We hope they will give us feedback and comments to improve our programs.”

The Escambia Early Learning Coalition wants to give parents tools to gauge good, better, and best when it comes to quality child care centers.

The Coalition is rolling out Stars Over Escambia, a quality rating improvement system for early education providers. By next spring, all of the 165 childcare providers contracted with the Coalition will have been given a base rating in the one- through four-star system.

Under the Stars Over Escambia program, four-star childcare programs should meet these criteria.

Under the Stars Over Escambia program, four-star childcare programs should meet these criteria.

Under Stars Over Escambia, providers will be reviewed by Coalition staff on:

— Screening and assessment.

— Curriculum and technology.

— Family partnerships.

— Program operations.

— Professional development.

All providers — childcare centers, family child care homes and schools, public and private — are a one-star provider if they have a School Readiness contract with the Coalition.

School Readiness pays for childcare for children ages 0 to 13 whose parents work at least 20 hours a week and earn 150 percent of the federal poverty level. Based on the income rules, a family of four with an income of $36,375 is eligible.

Overall funding has declined for the program from federal and state sources since 2007. For 2015-2016, Escambia County received $13.6 million for School Readiness. For 2016-2017, funding is essentially flat.

There are just under 3,000 children in Escambia County in the School Readiness program. Of those, 1,782 are ages 5 and under.

The National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University issues a state of preschool report card annually. Based on the NIEER report card, Florida meets 3 of 10 benchmarks for quality for 2015.

How Florida fared on the National Institute for Early Education Research;s Preschool Report Card.

How Florida fared on the National Institute for Early Education Research Preschool Report Card.

There are seven states in the nation that meet all 10 benchmarks.