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Photo: RODNAE Productions, Pexels

Enjoy the holiday!

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Playing outside is a source of joy for children — and an opportunity for early educators to teach amazing lessons.

But many early childhood programs don’t have the information and resources they need to build engaging outdoor play spaces.

A policy brief from New America — Rethinking Outdoor Space for High-Quality Early Learning –addresses this by sharing the many options for creating an engaging “outdoor learning environment” or OLE.

The brief starts with a story about butterflies:

“Tiny monarch caterpillars arrived at the school, not floating through the air, but with the thud of a package on concrete.

“Our postal carrier had no idea how many lessons were going to emerge from that box for the prekindergartners at our public school in Washington, DC. First, we created a mesh net habitat and placed it in the tiny side yard of our concrete school building, which is just a few feet from a busy street known for nightlife, not nature. Within a day, the caterpillars doubled in size and the students watched, fascinated, commenting on the bite marks in the plants and listening closely for crunching.

“Over the next four weeks, children took turns watering the plants in the garden beds and tore off leaves to place in the mesh cage for the very hungry caterpillars.”

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“On Tuesday, New Mexico became the first state in the nation to create a permanent fund for child care. More than 70 percent of New Mexicans agreed to amend the state constitution and spend about $150 million a year on early learning. The next morning, providers from across the country gathered on a Zoom call to celebrate.

“Many wiped away tears as an advocate relayed the news: The fund would make child care more affordable for hundreds of thousands of families, and workers would finally win the wage increases they’d long needed.

“ ‘I’m emotional right now,’ Ivydel Natachu said. She works with 3-year-olds at a preschool in Albuquerque, and she’d spent years advocating with the nonprofit organization Olé to create the fund. Before the coronavirus pandemic, the 52-year-old earned only $10 an hour. But the state’s leaders had funneled federal relief into temporary raises, and Natachu’s pay had risen to $15 an hour.

“ ‘And now I’m starting to save money,’ she told the group of about 50 providers on the Zoom call. ‘I’m saving money to buy a house. That’s my personal goal. With the constitutional amendment passing, I think my dream’s going to come true.’ ”

Only some of the providers who’d logged on that morning were from New Mexico, but nearly everyone cheered. Tuesday’s victory wasn’t just a win for New Mexico, many said. It was a road map.”

“As Natachu finished speaking, providers from Minnesota, Ohio and California said they felt energized. New Mexico had long been ranked one of the country’s worst states for child well-being, and activists there had faced a decade of opposition. If they could turn it around, couldn’t anyone?”

“In N.M. child-care funding win, providers nationwide see road map,” by Casey Parks, The Washington Post, November 10, 2022

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“Our child care system is broken.”

“Initially, to address this crisis as an employer, I considered hosting onsite child care; however, I quickly realized this was a mere stop-gap to a much larger, systemic challenge. Systemic challenges require systemic solutions, which is why the only solution to Vermont’s child care crisis is increasing public investment in our 0-5 child care system. Not just temporarily, but for the long-term, with a sustainable funding source.”

“Column: Lack of child care hinders small businesses,” by Sam Hooper, Valley News, October 25, 2022

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“Over the past couple years, Vermont has seen an influx of thousands of new people and families moving to the state. In Chittenden County alone, from 2020 to 2021, 605 new businesses launched or opened new locations, a massive spike over the previous year. However, it’s increasingly challenging to find workers here in Vermont or those willing and able to relocate and the top reason we hear is lack of high-quality, affordable child care. It’s estimated that there are over 5,000 parents living in Vermont right now who want to work but can’t because they don’t have the child care they need.”

“Hamel, Grace & Wall: The weight of the child care crisis is crushing Vermont’s workforce,” by Carina Hamel, Aba Grace & Tim Wall, Vermont Business Magazine, October 27. 2022 

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What are the best ways for states to help young children?

The Prenatal-to-3 State Policy Roadmap has answers that were shared earlier this month at a virtual summit that drew “thousands of national and state leaders, scholars, and practitioners.” Videos of that event are posted here.

Released by Vanderbilt University’s Prenatal-to-3 Policy Impact Center, the roadmap is an annual guide that draws on the science of child development. Specifically, the roadmap looks at:

• young children’s wellbeing

• proven, evidence-based policy strategies

• states’ implementation of 11 effective policy and strategy solutions, and

• how policy changes impact young children and their families, and how these changes reduce racial and ethnic disparities

Those 11 policy and strategy solutions are:

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“Cost is one of the big reasons Julie Groce—an educator and mother in Grand Blanc, Mich.—waited until she was in her mid-thirties to have her son. ‘We wanted to be financially ready. We thought we were doing the right thing. Turns out, it didn’t matter. Like, it does not matter. It’s going to suck you dry no matter what,’ Groce recently told Fortune’s Alexis Haut on the new podcast focused on childcare, Where’s My Village?

“Like many parents of young children, Groce is counting down the months until she can enroll her son in public school. ‘We paid $1,200 a month, which is how much our mortgage is. So we pay two mortgages,’ she explains on the podcast, adding that their childcare provider, like many across the country, recently increased tuition costs. 

“That cost, however, is a double-edged sword, Groce says. ‘I’m torn because on one hand, it is 1,000% worth it—the way that he’s growing and thriving, totally worth it. If I could pay more, I would, but I also want to be able to pay the bills and pay our mortgage.’ ”

“Childcare costs are bleeding many families dry. This map shows how expensive it is in your state,” by Megan Leonhardt, Fortune, October 19, 2022

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”Governor Ned Lamont today announced that his administration is releasing $70 million in state funding that will be used to provide bonus payments to the staff of child care providers in Connecticut who provide safe and nurturing care to the state’s youngest infants, toddlers, and preschoolers. Individual bonuses will amount to $1,000 for full-time workers and $400 for part-time workers.

“The governor explained that this initiative, known as Wage Supports for Early Childhood Educators, was created to show gratitude for the service of child care workers, particularly during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was included as part of the state budget bill that he signed into law earlier this year.

“ ‘Child care staff work consistently to provide critically needed care to ensure that children are safe and their parents and guardians have the support necessary to go to work,’ Governor Lamont said. ‘They are an essential part of our economy and help make Connecticut the most family-friendly state in the country. We need to support this important industry that is vital to families, the workplace, and society.’ ”

“Governor Lamont Announces $70 Million in Appreciation Bonus Payments for Connecticut Child Care Workers,” The Office of Governor Ned Lamont, October 6, 2022

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U.S Capitol

Photo: Thuan Vo from Pexels

Last fall, excitement buzzed around the federal Build Back Better bill. It was a sweeping social spending bill that promised to make a historic investment in early education and care, including universal preschool for all 3- and 4-year-olds and more affordable, high-quality child care.

The bill was passed in the House. Excitement grew. But in the Senate, Build Back Better faced opposition it could not overcome.

What emerged months later was a compromise – the Inflation Reduction Act – which had no funding at all for early education and care.

A Hechinger Report article sums up the field’s reaction: disappointment and determination.

“ ‘It’s heartbreaking,’ Julie Kashen, a senior fellow and director for women’s economic justice at the Century Foundation, said, while also noting the need to build upon some of the positive publicity that came out of the protracted battle. ‘Child care has become a national issue in a very powerful way. We are closer than we had been in 50 years,’ she said. ‘What else can we do but continue to fight?’ ”

“That’s why Kashen is already looking to what’s next: boosting a national movement and building a web of advocates who help keep child care needs front and center for legislators and businesses. ‘Employers must speak up so people understand that this is not a family problem, it’s an economic issue, and it is something Congress has to act upon,’ Kashen said.”

Mark Reilly has a similar response: Seize the momentum and move forward.

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“Parents and families rightfully wonder ‘Why is child care so expensive?’ The reality is that it’s expensive because it costs a lot to provide good, high-quality care. Child care providers are not collecting vast sums of money and hoarding it for themselves while not paying their teachers. It’s quite the opposite. They are making every last cent stretch as far as they can. Sometimes by not paying themselves. The simple fact is that we cannot sustain child care the way it exists now and both pay teachers the wages they deserve and keep care affordable for families. It is not possible.

“So what will solve the problem? Public funding. The only way to make child care affordable for families and pay teachers the wages they deserve is to publicly fund child care.”

“Public funding would bridge the gap between what families can afford and the costs to run a quality program that can pay teachers what they deserve. We strongly support the recommendation that for child care to be ‘affordable’ for a family, that family should not pay more than 7% of their income for child care. Right now, many of our families pay 30-40% of their income for child care which is hard to even imagine.”

“Child care pros on squaring the circle of low wages and high costs: We need public funding,” by Tracie Myers, Katy Knudtson, and Stacey Flanigan, The Minnesota Reformer, September 29, 2022

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Photo: Alyssa Haywoode for Strategies for Children

Advocates have long called for early education and care to be treated as a public good – just like public schools or the infrastructure of roads and bridges needed to maintain a 21st century workforce. We are grateful for the close collaboration and appreciate the decisions our elected officials have made to support and stabilize the early education and care sector over the last two pandemic years.

While the worst may be behind us, we’re not out of the woods yet. This election year is especially important as we move towards sustainability and growth.

So please be a Champion for Young Children! Here’s how:

As a Voter

• REGISTER: If you are new to voting in U.S. elections, you have recently moved to the state of Massachusetts, or you simply need to update your registration information, visit the Online Voter Registration System. The voter registration deadline is Saturday, October 29, 2022.

• Learn about with your district and elected officials. Every 10 years, districts for members of Congress, the State House of Representatives, the State Senate, and the Governor’s Council are re-drawn by the Legislature. This process happens after each federal census in order to make sure each district is made up of approximately the same number of people. Learn more about redistricting in Massachusetts here.

• Learn about the candidates. Click here for the full list of state election candidates.

• Engage Candidates and Community: Ask questions about their education platforms and/or write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper urging candidates to prioritize young children in the election. If you need assistance, contact Marisa FearStrategies for Children’s associate director of research and policy.

• VOTE on (or before) Tuesday, November 8th! Click here for early voting information and instructions on how to vote by mail. Plan ahead for in person voting by looking up your poll place and election information.

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