Local Leaders Take on Tough Issues to Support the Early Childhood Workforce

Giving proper support to the people who care for young children is really a matter of infrastructure in any city – and city leaders should treat it with that level of importance. Here are five key takeaways from the Early Childhood Workforce meeting that occurred in Washington, D.C. earlier this month.

ohort members from Kansas City discuss education at the Early Childhood Workforce Cross Site Meeting hosted by NLC. Throughout the meeting, city leaders had rich and informative discussions with one another and shared insights, best practices, and solutions to tricky challenges. (photo: NLC)

Cohort members from Kansas City discuss education at the Early Childhood Workforce Cross Site Meeting hosted by NLC. Throughout the meeting, city leaders had rich and informative discussions with one another and shared insights, best practices, and solutions to tricky challenges. (photo: NLC)

Leaders from seven cities joined the National League of Cities (NLC) in Washington, D.C. earlier this month to kick off the Institute for Youth, Education, and Families’ Cities Supporting the Early Childhood Workforce initiative. These local leaders, along with experts from NLC and its partner organizations, explored ways to support and transform the early childhood workforce in their communities, as well as the challenges they may face.

Local officials from Hartford, Connecticut; Jacksonville, Florida; Kansas City, Missouri; San Francisco; Rochester, New York; Richmond, Virginia; and Seattle engaged in rich and informative discussions with Winona Hao, program manager at the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE), and Kat Kempe, senior director for professional recognition and advancement at the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), which are both partnering with NLC in the initiative.

Here are five key takeaways from the meeting:

  • Cities are leading the way with innovative methods of supporting the professionals that care for our cities’ youngest residents. The Jacksonville Children’s Commission coordinates a network of local agencies to provide coaching services to staff in local child care centers. In Richmond, the Office of Community Wealth Building is using a poverty reduction lens to tackle early childhood issues, which includes bringing the voices of those living in impoverished communities to the forefront of the decision-making process. These are just two of the many efforts cities are already undertaking to make sure early childhood professionals have the supports they need.
  • Low salaries for most early childhood workers is a persistent problem that must be addressed in any efforts to support this workforce. Caitlin McLean, workforce research specialist at the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment (CSCCE) at the University of California at Berkeley, presented CSCEE’s robust collection of data that tracks conditions and policies for the early childhood workforce in each state. McLean shared strategies localities have used to address compensation, such as wage supplements and salary parity for pre-k teachers.
  • The early childhood workforce is infrastructure (and other tips to effectively talk about the value of the early childhood workforce). Sherry Cleary, executive director of the New York Early Childhood Professional Development Institute, shared effective messaging strategies in communicating the importance of supporting the early childhood workforce with key policymakers and other stakeholders. Cleary explained that giving the proper supports to the people who care for young children is crucial infrastructure in any city, and we need to treat it with that level of importance. She also shared that those advocating for the early childhood workforce should closely align their work with a mayor’s strategic priorities in order to gain increased support.
  • We need to talk about the impact of early childhood trauma – not just on children, but on the early childhood workforce, too. More and more exciting efforts are being made to incorporate the impact of early childhood trauma into systems of care for young children. However, individuals who care for children haven often experienced trauma themselves. While we continue to think about trauma’s impact on young children, we must simultaneously take steps to incorporate trauma-informed care into professional development systems for the workforce.
  • Partnerships with higher education are key to deepening support for the early childhood workforce. Kim Owens, the Grow NJ Kids incentives coordinator at the New Jersey Department of Human Services, described partnerships that the state of New Jersey has with five different institutions of higher education. These partnerships allow New Jersey to jointly administer many programs that they would not be able to administer on their own, such as a statewide workforce registry and training for early education providers. Dr. Antoinette Mitchell, assistant superintendent of postsecondary and career education for the Washington, D.C. Office of the State Superintendent of Education, told city leaders about Washington’s program that gives high school students career and technical education to move them toward credentialing as early childhood educators.

To learn more about the YEF Institute’s Cities Supporting the Early Childhood Workforce project, click here.

About the author: Alana Eichner is the Early Childhood Associate in NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.

Seven Cities Work with NLC to Build Early Learning Communities

City teams heard from a panel of three national experts about the area where workplace and economic support policies intersect with early childhood education.

(Getty Images)

The earliest years of life are critical to a child’s development. High-quality education and development for children from birth to age five not only promotes physical and social-emotional health and a strong foundation for success in school and life, it also helps build strong local economies and thriving communities. (Getty Images)

Earlier this month, NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families (YEF Institute) brought local leaders from seven cities together in Washington, D.C. as part of its City Leadership for Building an Early Learning Nation initiative, supported by the Bezos Family Foundation. The meeting gave local leaders from cities committed to becoming early learning communities the opportunity to hear from experts on many of the key issues they are grappling with in their efforts to ensure every young child thrives and reaches their potential.

Participating cities included San Francisco; Portland, Maine; Kansas City, Missouri; Minneapolis; Pittsburgh; Jacksonville, Florida; and Dayton, Ohio, which have been part of NLC’s Early Learning Nation initiative since July 2015.

City teams heard from a panel of three national experts about the area where workplace and economic support policies intersect with early childhood education. Emily Martin, general counsel and vice president for Workplace Justice for the National Women’s Law Center, discussed the ways in which conditions of low-wage jobs – which often include unpredictable and non-traditional schedules and low pay – make it very challenging for families to secure stable child care arrangements. Michelle McCready, chief of policy at Child Care Aware of America, laid out data from Child Care Aware’s recently released Parents and the High Cost of Child Care report, and discussed how early care and education is unaffordable for families in nearly every state. Heidi Goldberg, director of Economic Opportunity and Financial Empowerment in the YEF Institute, spotlighted innovative city efforts to set families up for economic success, including NLC’s newly formed Economic Mobility and Opportunity Task Force.

Julie Holland, Education Advisor to Mayor Sly James of Kansas City, Missouri, reflects on what she learned from the session on creating family-friendly policies to support young children.

On the meeting’s second day, the seven cities were joined by 10 communities from the Center for the Study of Social Policy’s Early Childhood-LINC network for a discussion on promoting racial equity in early childhood systems. Lindsay Allard Agnamba, executive director of School Readiness Consulting, and Michelle Molitor, founder of the Fellowship for Race & Equity in Education, facilitated a series of small group conversations on how participants can leverage their roles in city government to promote racial equity. Participants committed to taking action steps to promote upon returning to their cities.

Charmaine Webster, Preschool Promise Program Manager at Learn to Earn Dayton, in Dayton, Ohio, shares her takeaways from the session on racial equity.

The convening also featured Ellen Galinsky, executive director of Mind in the Making at the Bezos Family Foundation. Watch Galinsky lay out her vision for an Early Learning Nation.

Through the City Leadership for Building an Early Learning Nation initiative, NLC will continue to work with these city leaders toward the goal of building an Early Learning Nation by 2025. If you’re interested in learning more, contact Alana Eichner at NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education and Families at eichner@nlc.org.

About the author: Alana Eichner is the Early Childhood Associate in NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.

Innovative City Program Teaches Civic Engagement to Parents

Many cities have made ensuring all young children start kindergarten ready to succeed a top priority – and this will only happen when parents are a part of the equation.

Parents are key stakeholders who know what children need, and their voices must be included in policy discussions. (Getty Images)

On a recent visit to Kansas City, Missouri, I was lucky enough to learn about the Parent Leadership Training Institute (PLTI) and hear from parents who have been part of this innovative program. Parental engagement is a vital component of any strong early childhood system, and PLTI is a program that is enabling parents to be civic leaders and advocates for their children in their communities across the country.

With help from the National League of Cities (NLC) Institute for Youth, Education, and Families (YEF Institute), Kansas City officials and key community stakeholders are exploring whether the PLTI program is a good fit for their city. After NLC sent Julie Holland, Education Advisor to Kansas City Mayor Sly James, to New Orleans to witness the PLTI program in action, she excitedly advised the mayor to look into bringing the parent empowerment model to the city.

Mayor James, a strong champion of early learning, enthusiastically spoke about PLTI in a recent radio interview, saying, “this is a program that will enhance [parental] engagement, but also takes it outside of the schools. It takes it out into the community. It builds leadership, and Lord knows we could use more leaders.”

While Kansas City is still in the exploratory phase, Mayor James wants as many local parents as possible to eventually take advantage of the PLTI program. He believes it fills an important need to increase and support parental engagement. Kansas City is an excellent example of local leaders taking action to create the necessary components of an early learning nation.

The PLTI model begins with the assumption that parents want what is best for their children, but often lack the leadership skills and civic knowledge to be effective advocates. PLTI Executive Director Elaine Zimmerman began the program in Connecticut after realizing that parents are an important stakeholder group that often was not given a seat at the table when it came to decisions about children’s lives. Through PLTI, a cohort of 25 parents over a series of 20 weekly classes learn key leadership and civic engagement skills such as data analysis, public speaking, and the basics of public policy formation.

The data is clear: after completing PLTI, parents increased their knowledge of how state and local laws work, increased their involvement in their communities, and exhibited increased willingness to work across boundaries with parents who were not similar to them. Participants stay in contact with their parent cohort through an alumni network, and pursue their own civic engagement project in the local community. Laced throughout PLTI is the belief in the agency and intelligence of parents, and each project is completely chosen by the parents.

Benita Cochran, a parent leader and graduate of PLTI in New Orleans, spoke about her experiences with the program in a powerful testimonial to local leaders in Kansas City. Cochran described how PLTI helped her find her voice as a leader and truly changed her life after her husband passed away.

“Over the course of the 20 weeks my mantra changed from ‘I’m just a parent’ to ‘I AM a parent.’ I have a voice, and it’s worth listening to,” Cochran told the group in Kansas City. She also credits her involvement in PLTI with significant changes in her children’s behavior and educational outcomes, saying “the shift that happened to me, the shift that happened to my home, was profound… when I went into PLTI, my daughter was failing. My daughter now has straight A’s.”

Hearing testimonials like this is not something I will forget anytime soon. Parents are key stakeholders who know what children need, and their voices must be included in policy discussions. PLTI is one model that gives parents the tools to be confident leaders at the early learning decision-making table.

If you’re interested in strengthening family engagement efforts in your community, contact Alana Eichner at NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education and Families at eichner@nlc.org.

About the author: Alana Eichner is the Early Childhood Associate in NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.