On April 19, the Learning Policy Institute (LPI) and the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) cohosted a webinar exploring the findings of the recent report, State Preschool in a Mixed Delivery System: Lessons From Five States.
Setting the stage for the discussion, LPI’s Hanna Melnick and NIEER’s Karin Garver explained that “mixed delivery” simply means that states recognize and support the early education that is happening in a variety of settings. Whether administered by local education agencies (LEAs, which generally coincide with K-12 school districts) or non-LEA settings (which can include Head Start agencies, community-based child care centers, private schools and family child care homes), the variety gives families a range of options and supports small businesses.
At the same time, Melnick and Garver noted, the offerings in any given community can be uneven and uncoordinated. States all have their own governance and administrative approaches for supporting the diverse needs of families and educators. Even without the hoped-for Build Back Better funding, many states are embracing mixed delivery models, with all eyes on California’s recently unveiled plans to implement the country’s largest and most complex pre-K system.
Here are our 5 Top Takeaways from the conversation:
1. Alabama. First Class Pre-K reaches 34% of 4-year-olds in a full-day program and has no income eligibility requirements. Allison Muhlendorf of the Alabama School Readiness Alliance endorsed gradual expansion of the program, in order to maintain quality. Of the five states highlighted, the government of Alabama is the most directly involved in early education, rather than working through intermediaries or subcontracting with ELAs to reach non-ELA providers.
Pamela Truelove-Walker of the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education said the approach allows her agency to better target resources such as coaching and apprenticeships. She emphasized credentials and pay parity as necessary provisions for maintaining quality in mixed-delivery systems. A few days after this webinar, department head Barbara Cooper was forced out over the distribution of NAEYC’s Developmentally Appropriate Practice Book. (Read NIEER’s State of Preschool Yearbook entry for Alabama.)
👉 Alabama First Class Pre-K: Setting the Standard Nationally
2. Michigan. Designed primarily for children in families with financial challenges, Great Start Readiness Program serves about a third of the state’s 4-year-olds. State dollars go to 56 intermediate school districts, which distribute funds and provide professional development to LEA and non-LEA sites. (Read NIEER’s State of Preschool Yearbook entry for Michigan.)
👉 Preschool Quality and Child Development: How Are Learning Gains Related to Program Ratings? (LPI)
3. New Jersey. Known as Abbott Pre-K (because of a 1980s state supreme court decision), this state’s program serves 29% of 4-year-olds and 16% of 3-year-olds in the state. Though state funding flows through LEAs, more than 4 in 10 of Jersey’s preschool students are enrolled in non-LEA settings. Although it still goes by the name Abbott, the state has been expanding beyond the 31 Abbott districts since 2017 and is now gearing up for the rollout of statewide universal preschool, according to Robin Wilkins, education program development specialist, New Jersey Department of Education and current president of the National Association of State Leaders in Early Education.
- Establish strong program standards across settings so that all children receive high-quality preschool experiences.
- Address barriers that might prevent qualified non-LEAs from participating in the state preschool program.
To help LEA and non-LEA preschool educators achieve parity with K-12 teachers, the state invests scholarships and supports for BA and certification. Joselyn Estevez-Vargas of HOPES Community Action Partnership underscored the need for ongoing, frequent, open and respectful communication around pay, benefits and other issues that matter to providers. (Read NIEER’s State of Preschool Yearbook entry for New Jersey.)
👉 Strategies in Pursuit of Pre-K Teacher Compensation Parity (NIEER)
4. New York. Two complementary streams (the Statewide Universal Full-Day Prekindergarten grant and Universal Prekindergarten) fund preschool for 46% of 4-year-olds in New York. Similar to the New Jersey arrangement, LEAs contract directly with the state, then subcontract with participating non-LEA providers. More than 4 in 10 state-funded slots are in New York City’s Pre-K for All (Read NIEER’s State of Preschool Yearbook entry for New York.)
5. West Virginia. Legislation for this state’s Universal Pre-K system passed in 2002, mandating it to be up and running by by 2012. “We had 10 years to build it,” recalled Janet Bock-Hager, WV Department of Education, Office of Teaching & Learning. The program is dually governed by state departments of Education and Health and Human Services, with funds flowing to county boards of education. It now serves more than half of the state’s four-year-olds, and 82% of classrooms are “collaborative” (that is, LEAs offer services in collaboration with non-LEAs).
Bock-Hager stressed the importance of joint decision-making and county participation in enrollment and other processes, to maximize resources available to families. At least every three years, a Pre-K Review Process takes place, where the stakeholders explore quality data and analyze trends, to make big decisions together. Nicholas County Schools’ Sarah Keiper described school readiness events showing families what’s available as well as preschool-to-kindergarten days to ensure smooth transitions. (Read NIEER’s State of Preschool Yearbook entry for West Virginia.)
👉 Read more: Bringing Dolly Parton’s Library to Every WV County
The webinar concluded with remarks by Libby Doggett, who served as deputy Assistant Secretary of Policy and Early Learning from 2013 to 2017, and Barbara Chow of the Heising-Simons Foundation. Doggett praised the “awesome young leaders moving us forward,” while Chow offered nuggets of wisdom and encouragement, including “Policy is a blunt tool that must be wielded with precision,” and reminded viewers that the rollout of universal pre-K can be disruptive—but it’s worth it.
Early Learning Nation columnist Mark Swartz writes for and about nonprofit organizations. Author of the children's books Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe, Lost Flamingo, Magpie Bridge and The Giant of the Flood as well as a few novels, he lives in Takoma Park, MD, with his wife and two children.