Transforming Early Care and Education: How Mixed Delivery Systems Address Key Challenges Part 1

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Transforming Early Care and Education: How Mixed Delivery Systems Address Key Challenges Part 1

Discover how mixed delivery systems are addressing critical gaps in the early care and education landscape, meeting the needs of families, providers, and policymakers alike.

Mixed Delivery in Early Care and Education: Choice, Stability, Innovation

The world of early care and education (ECE) faces a daunting range of challenges: families struggle to find options, funding remains fragmented, and providers grapple with instability. Mixed delivery systems are an innovative solution offering states a powerful way to address these critical issues, benefiting families, providers, and policymakers alike.

The Challenges of ECE

Let’s be clear about the obstacles ECE encounters:

  • Families lack choices:

    They need accessible, affordable, and high-quality care that aligns with their work schedules and locations.

  • ECE options are limited:

    Many children miss out on essential early care and education experiences.

  • Disparities in the supply of ECE options:

    in some communities, especially high-poverty and culturally and linguistically diverse communities.

  • Funding remains complex:

    This compromises provider stability and the quality of care.

  • Policies need streamlining:

    We must create inclusive approaches that cater to diverse family needs.

What is a Mixed Delivery System and How does it Help?

A mixed delivery system refers to an approach in ECE where publicly-funded programs, such as Pre-K, Head Start, and other child care options, are offered through a variety of settings and providers. These settings can include center-based child care programs, family child care homes, public schools, and community-based organizations.

The key feature of a mixed delivery system is the flexibility it provides to parents, allowing them to choose the type of care that best meets their needs and preferences. This approach also enables multiple funding streams to support early care options, promoting financial stability for providers and expanding access to high-quality care for families.

Families Win with More Choices

Mixed delivery systems solve a primary problem: the lack of options for families.

  • Recognizing that every family is unique, with different work schedules, preferences, values, and cultural and linguistic beliefs and practices, mixed delivery systems empower parents by providing a range of ECE types and settings to choose from.
  • Examples of this in action:
    • Washington’s Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP) offers diverse settings, including school districts, center-based ECE programs, and family child care homes. (Source: Bipartisan Policy Center.)
    • North Carolina’s Smart Start network consolidates ECE resources, improving quality and responsiveness to community needs. (Source: Bipartisan Policy Center.)
    • Michigan’s Great Start Readiness Program (GSRP): Designed to primarily serve families with low income, GSRP serves about one third of Michigan’s 4-year-old population. Funding flows from the state to 56 intermediate school districts (ISDs), which are responsible for distributing funding and providing professional development to local education agencies (LEA) and non-LEA providers. (Source: Learning Policy Institute.)

Enhancing Provider Stability

The ECE field has faced significant challenges in terms of provider stability in recent years. Many providers struggle with financial instability, low wages, and high turnover rates. According to a report by the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment, the median hourly wage for ECE educators in the U.S. is significantly lower than that of workers in other occupations requiring similar levels of education. This wage disparity contributes to high turnover rates and difficulty in retaining qualified and experienced ECE staff. Without reliable financial support, providers may struggle to maintain their operations, resulting in closures or reduced quality of care.

A mixed delivery system can help address the problem of provider stability in several ways:

  1. Diversified Funding:

    By combining funding from multiple sources, such as state-funded Pre-K programs, child care subsidies, and other ECE initiatives, mixed delivery systems provide a more stable and reliable financial foundation for providers. This diversification of funding streams helps mitigate the risk of relying on a single source of funding, reducing the vulnerability of providers to sudden changes or cuts in any given ECE funding stream.

  2. Increased Fiscal Stability:

    Mixed delivery systems enable providers to access a broader range of funding options, which can contribute to their fiscal stability. By offering publicly-funded ECE slots in diverse settings, such as ECE centers and family child care homes, providers have the opportunity to tap into different funding streams and secure a more sustainable financial model. This stability allows providers greater flexibility to invest in their programs, improve the quality of care, and retain qualified staff.

  3. Parental Choice Increases Demand:

    Mixed delivery systems prioritize parental choice by offering a variety of ECE program types and settings. This flexibility allows parents to select the type of care that best meets their needs, including factors such as affordability, preferences, location, hours of operation, and cultural and linguistic beliefs and practices. When parents have more options, it increases the demand for different types of providers, creating a more stable market forECE services.

  4. Fosters Collaboration:

    Mixed delivery systems often involve collaboration and coordination among various stakeholders, including early childhood programs, school districts, community organizations, and government agencies. This collaborative approach fosters stronger relationships and partnerships, leading to better coordination of resources, sharing of best practices, and improved support for ECE providers. By working together, stakeholders can address common challenges and create a more stable and supportive environment for ECE providers.

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Continue our exploration of how mixed delivery systems address key challenges, in Part 2.