Editor’s Note: The Early Learning Nation Studio recently attended the 2022 National League of Cities’ City Congressional Conference where we spoke with early learning researchers, policymakers, and practitioners. The full collection of video conversations can be found here.
By creating a community-wide coalition across Austin city and Travis County in 2011— encompassing the public, private and non-profit sectors—Austin/Travis County Success by 6 provides support for families from birth to five. With their new strategic plan—and 38 babies being born every day—the group is trying to improve school readiness overall.
Chris Riback: Hello, Austin. Hello.
Cathy McHorse: Good Morning.
Lawrence Lyman: Good Morning.
Donna Sundstrom: Good Morning.
Sylnovia Holt-Rabb: Good Morning.
Chris Riback: Welcome to the Early Learning Nation Studio. Great to have you.
Cathy McHorse: Thank you.
Lawrence Lyman: Thank you.
Donna Sundstrom: Thank you.
Sylnovia Holt-Rabb: Thank you.
Chris Riback: Cathy, what is the state of early childhood learning and early childhood care in Austin? Describe it for me, if you would pre COVID and post COVID.
Cathy McHorse: Sure. Compared to other communities in Texas, the Austin-Travis County community was really better positioned as far as having access to high quality early care and education and pre-K, because of the work of our community wide coalition for the past decade. But that’s important to look at in the context of the state of Texas, out of all 50 states, we have the least coordinated, efficient and integrated system for early childhood education across the country. So we were well poised, but the pandemic really did devastate the whole sector. Fortunately, our community gave early COVID relief funding, and so our childcare centers have fared better than some of the other communities around the state.
Chris Riback: So what is the Austin Travis coalition, and what is the Success by Six Plan?
Cathy McHorse: We have a community wide coalition that includes our partners at Austin city, Austin and Travis county. It includes all of the stakeholders that provide support for families from birth to five. And we came together back in 2011 to create a strategic plan. And we’re now in the third version of our strategic plan, trying to improve school readiness overall.
Chris Riback: And Lawrence, how did that coalition come together? You represent Travis county, that’s correct?
Lawrence Lyman: Yes.
Chris Riback: How did the coalition come together?
Lawrence Lyman: So this goes back many, many years to a prior century to be honest. We had a long history of more or less informal collaboration among the city, the county, and others in the community to try to do what we could to improve quality, expand capacity. But I don’t know, Kathy can correct me probably 20 years ago or more.
Chris Riback: Wow.
Lawrence Lyman: The United Way really stepped up and grabbed ahold and said, we’re going to become the backbone to make this happen and really broaden the coalition, formalize the coalition. Really got us a point, so it was less a matter of point by point. What makes sense right now and really got us to, this is a plan that as a community we can run with. And so all of us, whether we’re public, private, or just generally interested, can identify this is where I can fit and move forward the whole of the community to address those broader goals.
Chris Riback: And Donna, why did it make sense for Austin to coordinate with Travis County? Why does it matter to extend beyond just Austin itself?
Donna Sundstrom: I think it’s really important as a community that we’re all aligned with a strategic plan and we’re all going in the same direction with one voice and not having separate performance goals or separate goals from the city side versus the county. So that way our partners they’re seeking the community’s goals, not the city’s specific goals, not the county’s, but we’re all aligned in one direction.
Chris Riback: And Sylnovia, efforts like this, they’re nice to do. They’re good to do. I mean, who doesn’t want to help children? Who doesn’t want to help families? Is there an economic argument for it?
Sylnovia Holt-Rabb: Yes. We feel that once you start early with a child, you’re building on the front end, so that on the back end, you have success in terms of further education certificate, a wellbeing life, a quality of life. And so this is not our first entrance into assisting with childcare. We have done it previously through our workforce development contracts. We built that in to our contracts around workforce development.
Chris Riback: Donna, what does 38 babies mean to you?
Donna Sundstrom: So in Austin-Travis county, we average about 38 babies being born each and every day. And those babies are born into a lot of different circumstances. Some are healthy, some are not, some have financial resources and means, some do not, some have a really good support system and some do not. And so it’s really important to ensure that each of those babies is able to thrive and reach their full potential. And that’s what Success by Six, we really want to try to ensure throughout the community.
Chris Riback: And that potential. Cathy is not a one day journey. It’s a 2000 day journey. What is the 2000 Day Journey?
Cathy McHorse: So that’s the time between, the day a child is born and when they enter kindergarten. And so we hope to surround that child with resources and make sure their family and the child have experiences that support them to reach their optimal developmental potential before they even enter kindergarten.
Chris Riback: And I understand that you were able to direct some of the American Rescue Plan Act money, some 11 million dollars. What did you do with that? How did it help this program?
Cathy McHorse: So we really, we were fortunate, as I said that the city and county had already invested some COVID relief funding for our childcare sector. So we were able to be strategic, look at our data, and think about where could we invest to make our infrastructure stronger and our systems better in the long run, so that when we do get at limited resources into this sector, we can maximize them. So it includes everything from supporting our mixed delivery pre-K partnership program, expanding support for the childcare workforce through premium pay, strengthening the childcare sector through Shared Services Alliance, family-based childcare, because we know infants and toddlers are there, and even expanding pre-K access throughout public schools.
Chris Riback: And Sylnovia, what’s next?
Sylnovia Holt-Rabb: So what’s next within our group is that we, in economic development, will continue to support early childhood through a future RFP that we have coming out, but we work collaboratively and we’re excited about the future. We’re poised and ready for new funds if the feds want to send us some. So-
Chris Riback: As one of the people responsible for economic development, I am sure you are ready for new funds.
Sylnovia Holt-RABB: Yes.
Chris Riback: Thank you all for joining us in the ELN studio today.