Lack of child care and partial school openings may prevent many people from returning to work this fall in factories, stores, and offices.  Reinventing Child Care in Massachusetts, a webinar series presented by the University of Massachusetts Boston Institute for Early Education and Leadership and Innovation, tackles the tough problems of providing sustainable early childhood education and offers solutions.

Schools in many states will remain closed or only partially open this fall and working parents will continue to be faced with the challenge of caring for and educating their children of all ages. Parents with infants, toddlers and pre-K children will struggle to find open group child care centers that meet safety standards. Though the federal Paycheck Protection Program has helped some centers survive these past months, about 60% closed and many will not be able to return as viable businesses, putting at risk some 4.5 million licensed child care slots. Centers that do reopen may not have the resources to comply with the strict health and safety guidelines and enrollment limits such as those recently issued in Massachusetts. Some parents may be forced to delay returning to work as their employers reopen.

This coming Friday, July 17 at 1:00 EDT, the Institute for Early Education Leadership and Innovation at the University of Massachusetts Boston will present the third webinar in its series, “Reinventing Child Care in Massachusetts.” Volta Learning Group is proud to be a co-sponsor of the series. The lead presenters are from Opportunities Exchange, a consulting group that helps the early childhood education sector develop sustainable business strategies.

Like most other states, Massachusetts has a big problem. The cost of early childhood education and care for a single child is the second highest in the nation, making it higher than the cost of in-state college tuition and putting access out of reach for more than 95% of families. Because the costs of childcare are so high, many parents simply cannot afford to work. But high costs do not translate to high salaries for early education  workers; in fact, they make little more than minimum wage on average and very few have benefits such as health insurance. Less than one in five, nationally, has a Bachelor’s degree.

Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, the 9,000 centers and family child care programs in Massachusetts were struggling to make ends meet and maintain quality standards. Most of these centers are run as independent, stand-alone businesses. In its white paper, Reinvent vs. Rebuild: Let’s Fix the Child Care System, Opportunities Exchange describes how centers can become more efficient through shared services and technology. While these measures may seem like common sense and have been in place for a long time in other industries, such as travel or health and fitness, they are not widely in place in the child care industry:

  • Automated back-end software such as a Child Care Management System that improves efficiency and provides data for operating decisions.
  • Shared services models for buying, recruiting, enrolling, collecting fees, and hiring and training staff that support small centers and allow leaders to focus on teaching and learning.
  • Decentralized operations and sites continue to be important to serve families wherever they live—now more than ever with remote work—but must be enabled by efficient quality monitoring and data collection processes.
  • Price and reimbursement models based on actual costs, particularly for infants and toddlers for whom costs are much higher than for 3-4 year-olds.
  • Real-time, booking systems across regions that match supply to demand and allow parents to reserve, book, and pay online.

There is increasing pressure to raise quality standards and increase compensation for teachers and staff in early childhood education, including requirements that they earn credentials and degrees. Volta Learning Group has worked with a number of colleges on innovative models that can better meet the needs of the 1.2 million members of this highly diverse workforce. These models include stackable credential models, as well as online and competency-based approaches that provide greater flexibility and reduce costs.

It’s also time to recognize that employers, working parents and those who care for the Commonwealth’s youngest children share a common interest in ensuring affordable, high-quality, dependable early education and care that appropriately compensates providers for the critical role they play in the economy. Employers also have a critical role to play in making the vision a reality. Recognizing that quality child care is economic infrastructure, the House of Representatives passed the $1.5 trillion Moving Forward Act on July 2, providing $10 billion in aid to improve conditions in areas of high need across the public and private sector. But too many regulatory, structural, and financial barriers keep working parents and their children from accessing high-quality early education and care. Such measures showcase the critical importance of this industry to our economy and the need for skilled, fairly compensated providers.

The third webinar in the “Reinventing Child Care in Massachusetts series, “Making the Vision a Reality in Massachusetts—How Do We Get There?” addresses the policy and process changes needed at the state level for real progress. The webinar will begin at 1:00 pm EDT on July 17, 2020.  Registration is free.