Volume 5, No. 3
Building Business Support for Pre-K
This is the first of a two-part series on business involvement in pre-k.
For Entergy Corp., a public utility usually concerned with power and electricity, the poverty data was an eye opener. Of the nation’s 30 poorest counties, Entergy served 15 of them across the southern U.S. As the company recognized, such high rates are typically accompanied by low levels of educational attainment.
"When you look at poverty, education is the key," said Patty Riddlebarger, the company’s director of social responsibility. "It’s very much a business issue from our perspective."
Since 2001, the company has focused much of its corporate responsibility efforts on pre-k as a way to combat high poverty. Among other activities, it has:
- funded research in states on the long-term benefits of quality preschool;
- encouraged its leaders to participate in state commissions, local boards and business groups concerned about early childhood education;
- provided $300,000 for a pilot program in Mississippi that could emerge as a model for a future state pre-k program.
While pre-k support depends on many different players in Entergy’s service area – which includes Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas in addition to Mississippi – Riddlebarger is heartened that state preschool spending is up by $178 million in the region since company outreach began.
Yet though there are altruistic impulses to support preschool, the bottom line issue of workforce development is significant.
"If you have lower education levels," she says, "you are less attractive to new business,"
With more than 15,000 employees, Entergy serves 2.7 million customers. Yet even a profitable company cannot fund an entire state pre-k program. "The strongest thing business can do is to state the case for preschool," she said.
Entergy pursued this goal through various means. It partnered with the Southern Education Foundation to conduct research on early childhood education in Louisiana and Mississippi. This research found a return on investment of $9 for every $1 spent on preschool. The company then made flyers, sent to state and local leaders, that looked like small dollar bills with a note that investing $1 brings $9 back to the community.
In Arkansas, she said, a groundswell of business interest has contributed to pre-k growth. In 2009, 46 percent of 4-year-olds participated in pre-k, up from 12 percent in 2005, according to The State of Preschool 2009 from the National Institute for Early Education Research. Arkansas also is meeting nine of NIEER’s 10 quality pre-k benchmarks.
In Mississippi, which lacks a state pre-k program, Entergy employees have lobbied the legislature and provided financial support for Mississippi Building Blocks, a pilot project based at the University of Mississippi to increase quality in early childhood programs.
Mississippi Building Blocks uses a technical assistance framework to promote program improvement. Classroom teachers receive regular help from a mentor, while parent education advocates visit classes and homes and staff receive incentives to improve their education and training, said Laurie Smith, the program’s executive director. If judged a success, advocates plan to move ahead with plans for a state pre-k program.
Smith said most of the $10 million in project funding came from a variety of business and foundation donors, including Entergy.
"This is the first time I have seen such momentum around young children, and it is a result of businesses involvement and assistance," Smith said. Business leaders such as Entergy visit with educators and legislators, hold press conferences and speak before groups. "I think the best way to build support is to have it built in and explained by business leaders themselves," she said.
From the private sector perspective, Riddlebarger says it’s best for businesses to start by supporting research on the value of preschool. Then they can lobby for more public investments and later, contribute their own funds to such initiatives.
"It’s a progression that’s been particularly effective," she told Pre-K Primer.
In a challenging economy, effectively pursuing business support may be more important than ever. The National School Boards Association has developed detailed guidance for school board members on this issue. In its Pre-K Toolkit, NSBA’s Center for Public Education outlined its own set of best practices. Business leaders "have a stake in enhancing the quality of their future workforce," the toolkit states, and pre-k support is one place to start. Schools can:
- host community forums on pre-k and invite local business leaders;
- talk about pre-k as a foundation for a highly skilled workforce;
- focus on the economic benefits of pre-k, both for individuals and the community.
The economic message is particularly important for companies that, even in a recession, need a future high-quality workforce. Adds Riddlebarger, "Our ability to grow depends on the vibrancy of the communities we serve."
Preschool Data Systems Making Scant Progress
While states are collecting significant amounts of data on young children, the information often is confined within agencies making it difficult to answer basic questions about services to children from birth to age 5, a new survey says.
The Early Childhood Data Collaborative, which consists of six policy, research and advocacy organizations, conducted an analysis of 48 states last fall to track progress on building and using coordinated state early care and education data systems. Despite some progress, they concluded that data are "largely siloed by funding streams and incomplete, making it difficult for policy makers to answer basic questions" on children served and the programs they attend.
"As a result," they said, "states are largely unable to answer critical policy questions about their public early care and education systems."
The Early Childhood Data Collaborative’s is supporting states in efforts to build coordinated, longitudinal data systems that help them answer basic questions about children, programs and the early childhood workforce. Yet the goal of a coordinated system remains elusive based on the new analysis.
The survey examined progress in meeting 10 fundamentals of coordinated early childhood data systems including: a unique statewide child identifier; the ability to access child-level demographic and program participant information; ability to link data with K-12 systems; unique program identifier to link child information with provider and organizational information; child-level developmental data; and data on the structure and environment of early care and education programs.
Yet states cannot answer questions such as:
- Are children birth to 5 on track to succeed when they enter school and beyond?
- Is the quality of programs improving?
- Which children have access to high-quality programs?
- What are characteristics of effective programs?
- What policies and investments lead to a skilled and stable early care/education workforce?
"States collect early care and education data but cannot transform the data into actionable information," the report said.
Every state collects data on individual children, program sites and members of the early childhood workforce for at least some early care and education (ECE) programs. Yet only one state – Pennsylvania – can link data across all early childhood education programs at the child and program site levels.
To promote improvements, the report urges state policymakers to:
- articulate critical policy questions that will drive the development and use of coordinated state ECE data systems;
- strategically govern data collection and use, including ensuring the privacy, security and confidentiality of ECE data; and
- evaluate current and future data collection and linkage needs based on the state’s critical policy questions.
The report, 10 Fundamentals of Coordinated State Early Care and Education Data Systems: Inaugural State Analysis
, is available from the data collaborative at www.ecedata.org
Georgia Approves Plan To Preserve Pre-K
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal (D) and state legislators have reached an agreement that will not cut the state’s pre-k program from a full day to half a day.
Deal originally had proposed reducing the state pre-k program from 6.5 hours a day to 4 hours a day to help close a state funding gap. However, amid strong opposition from parents and others, officials agreed to a package of less-dramatic cuts.
The 6.5-hour day would remain, although the state will shorten the school year from 180 to 160 days and increase class sizes from 20 to 22 children. Teachers will see their pay reduced 10 percent due to the fewer days of work. However, the program will serve another 2,000 students by slightly increasing class sizes.
Discussions with teachers, providers and parents "have yielded an improved product," Deal said. "This plan will serve our 4-year-olds well."
The plan will save $54 million for the lottery-funded program.
New Videos Available
The National School Boards Association has released two new videos on pre-k.
High-Quality Pre-K examines ingredients of high-quality programs, while Many Happy Returns provides background for school board members and other policymakers.
The videos are available for downloading and sharing at www.centerforpubliceducation.org/Main-Menu/Pre-kindergarten/Pre-K-Videos/default.aspx.
Pre-K Primer is published by the Center for Public Education (www.centerforpubliceducation.org), an initiative of the National School Boards Association. The Center for Public Education is located at 1680 Duke Street, Alexandria, VA 22314. We gratefully acknowledge The Pew Charitable Trusts for its support of our work with pre-k. The views expressed here are those of the Center for Public Education and not necessarily those of The Pew Charitable Trusts. Pre-K Primer is written and edited by Chuck Dervarics, an education writer and researcher based in Alexandria, Virginia. Contact Pre-K Primer at email@example.com.