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Top Takeaways From the NHSA Policy Webinar Series: Building Resilient Head Start Systems through State Partnerships

Because we can’t take our Early Learning Nation Studio on the road during this time, stay tuned as ELN recaps Top Takeaways from important webinars, town halls and virtual events from the Early Learning field. Read them all and join the conversation! And visit our Early Learning Nation channel on YouTube for interviews with leaders from education, child development, business, politics and more.

On Tuesday, September 1, the National Head Start Association (NHSA) hosted the second event in their State Policy Webinar Series. Participants highlighted the challenges and successes of three states attempting to offer quality, accessible education options for young children.

Kent Mitchell (NHSA Director of State Affairs) welcomed the following panelists to present on their states’ programs:

  • Alferma Giles, Director, Texas Head Start State Collaboration Office
  • Karen Grimm-Thomas, External Relations Director, Pennsylvania Office of Child Development and Early Learning
  • Kristina Ellis, Health and Collaborative Services Director, CAP Tulsa

Below are our top three takeaways from the conversation.

1. State funding is essential to Pennsylvania’s early learning success. Pennsylvania integrated Head Start into their state’s educational ecosystem and found a useful model that has expanded over time. About 13 years ago, the state merged two offices to create the Office of Child Development and Early Learning (OCDEL). “OCDEL is a unique department in state government, jointly located between the department of human services and the department of education,” Grimm-Thomas explained. “It was a way to pool together all that funding for children ages birth to school-age childcare into one place.” The success found with this program and funding structure allowed for expansion into Early Head Start and pre-K programs as well.

2. Oklahoma relies on layered funding to move early education forward. Similar to Pennsylvania, Oklahoma has a long history of support and advocacy in the early childhood community. In 1998, they started pre-K for all children across the state and today are working toward a statewide early childhood program relying on multiple fund sources. The program was founded in the state department of education in 2006 with $5 million dollars from the state and $10 million from philanthropists and corporations. This structure now provides the resources to expand and improve early learning programs like Head Start. “A lot of the program requirements were guided by Head Start performance standards,” Ellis explained.

3. Collaboration is key to make changes for early child care in Texas. “Texas is not a state that receives state funds for Head Start,” Dr. Giles explained. Their state relies more on local and state agencies, committees and group relationships to grow and improve. “Building relationships can be difficult, especially at the state level,” Dr. Giles admitted, especially considering the state’s size, “We’ve been able to work through our largeness as a state to be more cohesive in our work relationships.”

The pre-K development grant was essential to developing these partnerships as it reestablished the Texas Early Learning Council (TELC). Governor Greg Abbott appointed about 20 positions to the council in early 2019, including key individuals from state agencies. “This was really a segue for us to use to work more cohesively together. It brought everyone to the table.” The TELC wanted to develop a strategic plan to build an organized system for early childhood services. Beginning with changing systems, their challenge was clear, “Systems building in a lot of states is very difficult because no one wants to let go of what they are already doing.”

Improving and sustaining impactful and accessible early childcare supports and education cannot be done single-handedly, and these cases are a testament to that. No matter the support structure, the presenters all spoke to the importance of good systems of communication and collaboration with stakeholders. Coalescing different sectors across states to support high-quality learning experiences for young children proves beneficial for all involved, and NHSA is a proven partner in moving that mission forward.

Mark Swartz writes for and about nonprofit organizations. He lives in Takoma Park, MD, with his wife and two children.

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