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2018: Wins For Infant And Toddler Care In Rhode Island!

August 13, 2018

This blog post summarizes Rhode Islands’ 2018 wins for infant and toddler care. It describes how advocates achieved significant increases in the State’s FY2019 budget and next steps for moving forward.

The new Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) funding represents an enormous opportunity to improve access to and quality of child care for infants, toddlers, their families, and the teachers and programs that work with them. With funding from the Pritzker Children’s Initiative, a project of the JB and MK Pritzker Family Foundation, the BUILD Initiative is organizing a series of webinars and blogs in partnership with ZERO TO THREE and the Center for Law and Social Policy for state policy leaders, decision makers and advocates.

By Leanne Barrett, Senior Policy Analyst, Rhode Island KIDS COUNT

Rhode Island’s recently passed FY 2019 budget, signed on June 22, 2018, ensures  that center-based child care programs for children under six in the Child Care Assistance Program will receive a rate increase, with significant increases for all quality levels and larger increases for higher quality programs as measured by the BrightStars Quality Rating and Improvement System. The budget establishes a tiered child care reimbursement rate structure in statute for infants and toddlers with high-quality programs paid at or above the federally recommended benchmark (75th percentile) to promote equal access to high-quality care. Rhode Island KIDS COUNT started this effort with a special focus on infants and toddlers but realized that we needed to promote tiered quality rates for all ages of children, given the needs in our community and knowing that the financial health and quality of child care providers depends on funding across all age groups. Fortunately, the expanded Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) money made it possible to go beyond our initial “state” ask to also include preschoolers and the budget established tiered quality rates for preschool age children as well as for infants and toddlers.  We were not able to secure adequate funding to meet the federal benchmark for preschoolers this year, but we took a sizeable step forward. We plan to continue our work to promote equal access to quality child care for children from infancy through age twelve.

How Did We Do It?

Getting approval of tiered reimbursement rates in the state’s budget to incentivize and reward high-quality programs has been an enormous effort, one that couldn’t have been accomplished without the tireless work of advocates, community members, legislative champions, and the support of Governor Raimondo, who knows that the learning gap begins in infancy and, without intervention, widens over time. She is also a strong advocate for improving access to high-quality early education and care programs so that more children can learn, grow, and develop to their full potential and families can work. But there were also specific steps we took that led to this win.

1.     We Created a Child Care Coalition Focused on Financing Quality

We established the RI Campaign for Quality Child Care which is based on the notion that tiered quality rates promote access to high-quality care and help programs attract and retain more qualified and effective educators. Over the past three years, its core members – Rhode Island KIDS COUNT, the Economic Progress Institute, the Rhode Island Association for the Education of Young Children (which manages BrightStars, our state’s Quality Rating and Improvement System), and one of our largest Child Care Assistance Program providers– met regularly. In discussing what we wanted to do and how we wanted to achieve our goals, we engaged providers and other allies (such as the Rhode Island chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, women’s groups, and faith-based groups), working with them to devise ideas for getting the message across to legislators. The work of this coalition led to the development and promotion of state budget priorities and legislation establishing rates for providers meeting high-quality standards that were at or above the federally recommended benchmark (the 75th  percentile of the most recent market rate survey).

2.     We Partnered with Leaders Inside State Government

We have always worked closely with state agency leaders to improve programs and policies for children.  In 2017, new leadership at the Rhode Island Department of Human Services helped move this agenda to improve funding for child care and implement tiered quality rates. The director has a young child in child care and a background in advocacy as well as program management. Without advocates inside government who understand and support a policy or program idea, it is very difficult for outside advocates to advance a new policy.

3. We Reached Out to our Congressional Delegation to Support Increased Federal Funding for Child Care

Rhode Island KIDS COUNT has great relationships with our Congressional delegation. We connected with legislative staff and urged support for the effort to double discretionary funding for CCDBG. We organized a state sign-on letter to support federal child care funding. Increased federal funding was very important.

 4.     We Used our QRIS Validation Study

We were proposing tying dollars to rates within our QRIS, so we knew that legislators would be interested in knowing if BrightStars’ rating levels meaningfully differentiate higher quality programs from lower quality programs. Findings from a study Child Trends performed for the state’s Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge grant proved BrightStars ratings effectively differentiated quality and that quality measures are related to improvements in preschooler’s social competence and math. The study also found that most child care center directors had a positive experience working with BrightStars.

 5.     We Formed a Think Tank on Quality Improvement

At the same time the Governor announced her support for tiered quality rates and increased funding for the Child Care Assistance Program, Rhode Island KIDS COUNT helped the state launch a focused task force, the BrightStars Think Tank, with the goal of examining where we were with BrightStars and coming up with recommendations for how it could be more effective at supporting quality improvement. This included, for example, looking at whether the step between a 2- and 3-Star is much harder than the step between a 3 and a 4; seeing if it was necessary to revise the standards or the way we measure them; and discussing available quality supports. We were able to come up with recommendations that our Department of Human Services could then share with the Children’s Cabinet. This meant we were bringing together stakeholders to have a quality improvement approach within BrightStars.

 6.     We Brought Legislators’ Attention to the Need for Quality

Leading up to the passage of the bill, we took every opportunity to bring attention to the need for high-quality child care for infants and toddlers. Through RI Reads, we invited legislators to read to children in child care programs in communities they represent. This year, we had them read to infants and toddlers. In addition to providing what the legislators said was an enjoyable time, we seized the occasion to give providers talking points on challenges they face in running a high-quality infant-and-toddler program. In addition, legislators got to meet the families who are voters in their districts. Another major advocacy event, Strolling Thunder Rhode Island, gave parents the chance to stroll their babies to the State House to bring statewide attention to what babies and families need to thrive. We set up an infant-and-toddler play area in the State House with donated, high-quality materials. The event culminated with the babies and families getting introduced on the House and Senate floors at the opening of the session. We also published an Issue Brief on working parents, child care, and paid family leave and held a policy roundtable discussion with legislators and community leaders.

 7.     We Focused on Organizing Parents

It’s hard to organize parents without one-on-one interaction with them. With this in mind, we hired a parent organizer who recruited parents to participate in several events leading up to the passage of the bill. She was a unifying force who made many suggestions, including providing parents with a one-year membership to the zoo as an incentive to bring their babies to the State House for the Strolling Thunder event. The parents, many of whom had to take the day off from work, some without the benefit of paid time off, really appreciated this gesture.

Next Steps

We consider it a major success that infant-toddler rates are now meeting the federal benchmark for quality child care. But we did not yet reach this goal for all children so we will keep going.

We are also working with the state on our quality improvement supports to see if there is anything else we can do to improve infant-and-toddler care. I would like the state to consider developing and piloting a wage enhancement strategy that can boost recruitment and retention of qualified, effective infant toddler teachers, especially in programs that are at the lower levels of the quality ladder. Without wage supports, good teachers leave lower quality programs before programs can make widespread improvements to increase their star level. The major policy win of tiered quality child care rates incentivizes quality and provides higher quality programs with more resources for their infant toddler teachers.  Creating a specific wage enhancement, tied to qualifications and effectiveness, will enhance the capacity of lower quality programs to attract and retain good teachers which will help them increase their star ratings and earn higher rates. Our goal is not to move kids from a low-quality program into a high quality one. The goal is to improve all programs to reach at least a 3-Star or above.

We have a long road ahead but feel encouraged by our 2018 wins and for the approach we’re using to call out infant-toddler in the context of our quest for a robust supply of high-quality child care for Rhode Island’s youngest!

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