Triptychs: Investing in Early Childhood Education to Support More Equitable Workforce Growth

A preschool teacher interacting with children playing with shapes in a table.

TIP’s Triptychs series features three examples that, when brought together, illuminate a subject of interest to our clients, partners, and colleagues.

The COVID-19 pandemic devastated an already-troubled childcare system while also reinforcing childcare’s essential role in improving access to quality jobs and promoting economic mobility. Addressing the nation’s worsening childcare crisis will require strategies for closing gaps in the childcare system, along with a focus on creating a pipeline of qualified teachers. What follows are three different approaches to expanding the supply of childcare providers and early childhood educators.

Wraparound Incentives in Indianapolis

Launched in partnership with Develop Indy in 2019, Indianapolis’s Inclusive Incentives strategy restructured existing tax abatements to better support inclusive growth. The revised tax abatement policy expands economic opportunity for businesses and residents by connecting the city’s investments in companies with its workforce goals. Specifically, businesses that are awarded tax abatements are required to deposit 5 percent of the estimated tax savings into a dedicated spending account. Companies must then use these funds for wraparound services that address primary barriers to employment. Investments can be made in city-defined workforce support programming in the areas of transit, training, or childcare. For example, companies may invest dedicated funds in childcare by partnering with Early Learning Indiana (ELI), the state’s oldest and largest early childhood education nonprofit. ELI identifies the childcare needs of a firm’s workforce and surrounding community and then implements and operates childcare educational centers based on those findings.

Upskilling Childcare Workers in Illinois

As part of an effort to address childcare shortages, Illinois governor J.B. Pritzker signed legislation in 2021 creating the Early Childhood Access Consortium for Equity (ECACE). Comprised of the state’s two-year and four-year public higher education institutions, the ECACE aims to streamline the attainment of an early childhood teaching degree. Standardizing how previous educational experience is treated was a key priority of the legislation, which automatically grants junior-level status at a four-year institution to any childcare worker with an associate’s degree. One of the consortium’s initial efforts is the ECACE Scholarship Program designed to encourage the pursuit of credentials and the advancement of existing early childhood education degrees. The ECACE also hosts a Workforce Data Dashboard that illustrates upskilling needs among early childhood educators by region and educational attainment.

In parallel with this legislation, Governor Pritzker dedicated $200 million of the state’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) allotment for training, mentorships, and scholarships to advance the state’s childcare workforce. These financial supports are aimed at enabling childcare workers to pursue credentials, with the goal of upskilling 20 percent of childcare workers who may need a postsecondary degree but who face barriers to attaining one (approximately 5,600 workers) by 2024.

Improving Access in San Antonio

The PreK4SA program is a city-wide initiative in San Antonio that seeks to improve access to quality childcare providers for working families and to benefit the city’s youngest learners. In addition to operating four early childhood education centers serving 2,000 students throughout the city, the program offers grant opportunities to existing childcare providers to help them expand their offerings (by extending the school day or serving more students) and improve educational quality (through the provision of materials, equipment, and services). Early childhood educators are offered continuing education support and professional development through the program, including assistance in obtaining a nationally recognized credential. A shared services initiative was also established in partnership with United Way and Children at Risk, which includes services like a substitute teacher pool, from which any partnering childcare facility can pull when needed. While PreK4SA could serve as a strong model for other cities, municipalities may need to get creative to find funding sources for a comprehensive program of this scale. San Antonio dedicated a ⅛ cent sales tax to fund the initiative.

Ashlin Gray, TIP’s 2022 Economic Development Intern, contributed to the research and writing of this post.

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