For the past month, we have talked to state leaders about how they are working within their states to strategically plan for allocating and disseminating federal dollars from the American Rescue Plan (ARP) to strengthen their early care and education systems beginning at birth. Through our blog series, we documented our discussions with early childhood administrators in Arkansas, Louisiana, Maryland, South Carolina, and Virginia. We noticed that most or all states:
- Involved stakeholders in planning for the use of the federal dollars. For some, such as Arkansas, this was done with input or direction from the Governor. Virginia partnered with advocates to create “listening sessions” throughout the state. South Carolina surveyed families. Other states build upon existing structures such as advisory councils and local networks.
- Built upon previous state efforts, including blueprints and strategic plans, typically funded with PDG dollars. In Louisiana, federal funds were distributed using the already established local Ready Start Networks. In Maryland, ARP dollars are being used to expand the state’s funded Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation Project.
- Addressed how to increase access to early care and education from birth to age five years. Strategies include expanding eligibility; waiving parent copayments; creating grants for programs, including facilities; not penalizing programs when children are absent; expanding preschool to three-year-olds, strengthening family child care, extending enrollment periods, and streamlining applications. In South Carolina, First Steps 4K+Siblings was created to extend access to child care subsidies for siblings of those already enrolled. And in Virginia next year, 5-year-olds will be allowed to enroll in the state’s pre-K program.
- Thought about ways to support, retain, and/or recruit educators through creating incentives with a “Covid bonus.” Louisiana has embarked on an evaluation to studying the ECE workforce over the next year; Arkansas increased the T.E.A.C.H scholarship budget significantly.
- Considered ways to improve the quality and services offered in their ECE programs. Maryland is prioritizing mental health services, professional learning, coaching, and shared services; South Carolina is investing in its QRIS system.
As authors of this blog series, we are aligned in understanding the need for states to create a more comprehensive system of early learning and care for children beginning with birth and continuing into the early elementary grades. We hope that this blog series will inspire other state early education leaders to invest these one-time federal funds wisely to create a better-integrated, more-equitable, and higher-quality system of early care and education for children.
For more ideas, you may want to look at a recent publication by The Center for Law and Social Policy on implementing CCDBG relief funds as well as ACF’s guidance. You can also review Using Every Student Succeeds Act Funds for Early Childhood and Ideas and Inspiration for Targeting Federal American Recovery Act Funds to Early Childhood Education. We also encourage you to work with your peers. As the Virginia team said, “Learning what other states are doing is really helpful and prompts our thinking. We really appreciate opportunities for facilitated peer-to-peer conversations around specific initiatives.”