Sustainability Goes Hand-in-Hand With Quality in Early Learning

On this blog, you’ll find us talking a lot about expanding the availability of high-quality early learning seats in the District of Columbia — with “quality” defined as meeting the Early Head Start standards. It’s one of our primary goals as a foundation. But we can’t achieve the right supply and the right quality without addressing the equally important factor of sustainability.

Early care and education (ECE) centers must generate a certain level of operating revenue in order to create and sustain high-quality programs. Louise Stoney, co-founder of the Alliance for Early Childhood Finance, explains the challenge this way:

“To be sustainable, ECE managers must tap and blend many funding streams, deal with multiple public and private agencies, and effectively market their services to families. To keep these dollars flowing, they must not only comply with a dizzying array of funding requirements, but also ensure that their program meets an increasingly complex set of quality standards. Add in all of the daily demands — staff who need supervision, a child who needs developmental screening or special health care, an anxious new parent, a clogged toilet, an ill cook — and who has the time or energy to deal with high finance?”

This has led Stoney to become a strong proponent of shared services, a business model that enables center- and home-based child care providers to share costs and deliver services in a more streamlined and efficient way. And we’re with her. Imagine a group of home-based providers in the District working together as a consortium, sharing back-office administration like payroll, benefits and billing; leveraging their group buying power; coordinating on staff recruitment and screenings; and sharing substitute teachers. Specialized expertise among the providers — maybe one is skilled at HR while another has marketing experience and yet another has depth in curriculum development — could be tapped and shared to help all of them.

Many states and communities are exploring options in ECE shared services — options that range from web-based platforms to fully integrated shared services operations. Our ultimate vision for the District is on the intensive end of the shared services spectrum, like the scenario described above, but we’re taking an important first step with a powerful web-based tool. We’ll tell you more about this new tool in our next blog post on November 3. In the meantime, learn more about the tremendous potential of shared services as an ECE business model. It’s innovative thinking like this that will make the cost of high quality work for providers and for the children and families they serve.