Announcing Start Early’s Exclusive Partnership with ACSES

ASCES and Start Early logo lockup

Start early is pleased to announce our new partnership with ACSES, a research-based approach to equitable classrooms developed by Stephanie Curenton, Ph.D. The Assessing Classroom Sociocultural Equity Scale (ACSES) is a valid and reliable observation tool and framework for measuring and supporting equitable sociocultural interactions in early childhood classrooms.

Now more than ever, we see the challenges facing our early education system and workforce. Black children are more likely to be suspended and expelled compared to their peers from other racial groups1. There is also a tendency to quickly label a child’s behavior as “challenging” without taking into consideration children’s emotions, strengths, or developmental needs. This unfair discipline and mischaracterization can isolate racially, culturally and linguistically diverse learners. Meanwhile, teachers may experience burnout from managing their classrooms without sufficient resources. Without adequate support, it is challenging for teachers to center the experiences of diverse learners in their classroom and to provide intentional and positive learning environments for all students.

The Start Early and ACSES partnership will support early childhood educators at all levels with tools and strategies to address these challenges and build more equitable classrooms and education systems. Through professional learning, coaching, collaboration across peer groups, and measurement, we will prepare teachers and leaders to:

  • Adopt the ACSES approach and integrate culturally relevant and anti-bias behaviors into their practice
  • Facilitate equitable interactions with children to improve outcomes and peer relationships
  • Develop skills to provide equitable discipline, individualized instruction and culturally sustaining social emotional learning opportunities

”I believe in the capacity of our workforce to learn and grow in their knowledge and commitment to equity,” says Dr. Curenton. “ACSES is not simply about creating a classroom environment that is more welcoming of social and cultural differences, but also about creating an education system that values and supports early educators to be the best they can be. ACSES is about investing in our workforce.”

As the exclusive professional learning partner for ACSES, Start Early will collaborate with Dr. Curenton to develop and deliver comprehensive professional learning for early childhood educators and program leaders. We will co-design PL opportunities with ECE teachers and leaders to make sure they are relevant and match the daily realities of working in an ECE classroom and program.

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Sign up to learn about ACSES professional learning opportunities, including an introductory series launching August 2024!

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Barbara Cooper, Ph.D., Senior Vice President, Professional Learning will lead Start Early’s partnership with ACSES, drawing from her wealth of experience and expertise leading large systems and sectors in early childhood education.

“The workforce, and the children and families we serve, are from diverse backgrounds,” said Dr. Cooper. “We cannot serve them effectively when we employ strategies that force us to ignore the complexities of race, culture and ethnicity. In this era of ‘culture wars’, we are hopeful that this partnership will shine a bright light on the importance of deeply understanding and appreciating diversity in our classrooms.”

Start Early will launch the first opportunity for professional learning in August 2024. Through a series of accessible webinars, teachers, program leaders, and other ECE practitioners will gain a foundational understanding of sociocultural equity and relevant practices they can immediately put to use when working with children and families. This virtual series will include CEUs and be offered in English and Spanish.

Sign up to receive updates about early bird pricing, group discounts and key dates.


Sources:
1Suspension: Curenton. 2022 SRCD Child Development Volume 93

About Start Early

Start Early (formerly known as the Ounce of Prevention) is a nonprofit public-private partnership advancing quality early learning and care for families with children, before birth through their earliest years, to help close the opportunity gap. For nearly 40 years, Start Early has delivered best-in-class doula, home visiting, and Early Head Start and Head Start programs. Bringing expertise in program delivery, research and evaluation, professional development, and policy and advocacy, Start Early works in partnership with communities and other experts to drive systemic change so millions more children, families and educators can thrive.

About ACSES

ACSES is a technical assistance framework rooted in equity and designed to provide an evidence-based multiple sources of data about how equitable, culturally responsive classrooms and programs along with a suite of research-based equity centered professional supports to teachers and leaders. Through Early Learning Access, training for data collectors, researchers, and program monitors is available.

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Start Early is proud to introduce Dr. Barbara J. Cooper as the Senior Vice President of Professional Learning. Dr. Cooper brings a wealth of experience and expertise in the field of education, particularly in early childhood education, and we are honored to have her on board.

In her role, Dr. Cooper will lead Start Early’s strategy to support and advance the early childhood workforce and oversee scaling the organization’s professional learning enterprise for professionals working in prenatal through PreK.

Dr. Cooper has made a remarkable impact at every stop throughout her career. In July 2020, she was appointed by Alabama Governor Kay Ivey as the Secretary of Early Childhood Education and also served as the Governor’s Birth through Grade 12 policy advisor. Starting in 2018, she played a crucial role in the administration of Alabama’s esteemed First Class Pre-K program as a part of the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education. Her contributions have significantly impacted the quality of early education in Alabama, garnering national recognition and serving as a model for others.

Dr. Cooper’s perspective will also be instrumental in advancing racial equity throughout all areas of our work as we continue our journey of being an anti-racist organization. That work will begin using the Educare Network’s recently published research agenda on advancing racial equity as a foundation. The agenda will serve as a guide and platform to bring about systemic change in early care and education — for children, families, and the workforce — so that equitable access and experiences become a reality for all. We are excited for Dr. Cooper’s leadership in spearheading Start Early’s efforts with early childhood professionals, culminating at the intersection of practice, policy, and research.

Additionally, Dr. Cooper was already familiar with Start Early’s work before joining, engaging with the Essential 0-5 Survey measurement system during her tenure in Alabama. This system functions as an assessment tool to better understand early education organizations and aid in improving their processes.

Originally from Chicago, she now resides in Montgomery, Alabama, with her husband, Walter. Together, they have three adult children and two precious grandchildren.

We are so pleased to have Barbara join the Start Early family!

Early Saturday morning, the Illinois General Assembly approved the state’s Fiscal Year 2024 (FY 2024) spending plan, which contains historic investments in the early care and education system, including proposed measures outlined in Governor J.B. Pritzker’s multi-year Smart Start Illinois plan.

Start Early is thrilled that the final budget contains nearly $300 million in new state funding for child care, preschool, home visiting, the Early Intervention (EI) program, and inclusion supports for preschoolers with disabilities and developmental delays.

“Today is a remarkable day for young Illinoisans and their families,” Start Early Vice President of Illinois Policy Ireta Gasner said. “The General Assembly passed a budget that directs significant state funding to a set of bedrock early childhood programs families know, benefit from and love. We thank the legislature for funding the first year of Governor Pritzker’s Smart Start Illinois plan, and we stand ready to work with the administration and the General Assembly to continue building and strengthening the early childhood system Illinois children and families deserve.” 

With these dollars, more families will gain the access they need to critical early learning programs, and many in the early childhood workforce will see long-overdue increases in pay. Early Intervention providers, for instance, will receive a 10% rate increase come July 1, 2023, and the administration has promised to issue grants to child care providers that will allow them to increase salaries for teachers and staff. The state will also have new resources to further strengthen and expand its nation-leading system of home visiting services. Along with the creation of thousands of new preschool slots in schools and child care centers throughout Illinois, communities will be able to use additional education funding to further deepen services for families with infants and toddlers, like home visiting. 

Here are the specifics:

  • $170 million (41.4%) increase for the child care system at IDHS
  • $75 million (12.5%) increase for the Early Childhood Block Grant at ISBE
  • $40 million (34.5%) increase for the Early Intervention (EI) program at IDHS
  • $5 million (27.9%) increase for evidence-based home visiting programs at IDHS
  • $5 million in brand-new funding at ISBE to support inclusion in schools and community-based early childhood settings for preschoolers with disabilities and developmental delays
  • $50 million in new, one-time funding from the Build Illinois fund for the Early Childhood Construction Grant (ECCG) program (though in an unexpected policy change with which we disagree, funds will be directed only to school districts in FY 2024)

Several other important measures impacting the early care and education system – and the families and workforce who are a part of it – have been approved by the legislature this session, including:

  • HB3817 (Rep. Gordon-Booth, Sen. Sims), the FY24 budget implementation bill, which:
    • Makes permanent the current income eligibility threshold (225% of FPL) for the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP)
    • Establishes in law parts of the governor’s Smart Start Illinois plan,
  • SB1794 (Sen. Pacione-Zayas, Rep. Ortiz) – establishes in law the existing IDHS home visiting programs
  • SB2390 (Sen. Pacione-Zayas, Rep. West) – among other changes to address teacher vacancies in the state, extends for five years the current staffing flexibility that allows early childhood educators with a Level 5 from Gateways to Opportunity to teach in a Preschool For All classroom provided they are working to secure their teaching license
  • HB2396 (Rep. Canty, Sen. Lightford) – requires each school board to establish a developmentally appropriate full-day kindergarten program by the 2027-2028 school year

We expect the Governor to sign and approve this final budget package soon. 

This suite of policy changes and funding increases was made possible by the commitment and diligent efforts of advocates across the state! Throughout the spring legislative session, parents, educators and advocates contacted state legislators thousands of times on behalf of Illinois families and those who serve them. We encourage you to reach back out to Governor Pritzker and your elected officials to thank them for prioritizing early childhood programs and services that set up our youngest learners for health and success in school and in life. 


Lee la declaración en español

CHICAGO – APRIL 25, 2023 – On Tuesday, April 25, Start Early hosted its Annual Luncheon and celebrated 40 years of working to close the opportunity gap through quality early childhood learning and care programs and services. The gathering of business, civic and philanthropic leaders called attention to the critical role of maternal health and investing in services that support the earliest years of a child’s life – before, during and after birth. It was also announced that the organization received a $10 million donation from MacKenzie Scott through her foundation Yield Giving, which provides Start Early a transformative opportunity to broaden its reach and serve more families with critical programs in communities nationwide.

“These funds will allow us to make deliberate investments to broaden Start Early’s impact and help ensure sustainability decades to come, further advancing our commitment to children, families and future generations,” said Start Early President Diana Rauner. “This unsolicited gift also serves as tremendous validation of the hard work and investments of our staff, our board and our philanthropic partners. We hope our guests’ knowledge from this event will trickle out into the community and supplement the work that Start Early is already doing to create a more equitable and respectful level of care for all women, birthing parents and their babies.”

Despite the continued advancements in medical care and technology, the country’s maternal and infant mortality rates are far higher than those in similarly large and industrialized countries. Women of color, especially Black women, experience disproportionate access to maternal health care, putting them at increased risk for poor maternal and infant health outcomes compared to their white peers. As lasting effects of the pandemic set in and new research demonstrates worsening realities for birthing parents, Start Early felt it critical to devote its annual event to address and offer solutions to the maternal health crisis. The program educated attendees about the systemic inequities impacting women of color and elevated innovative solutions for saving lives and improving those first experiences of new parents and their babies.

The program, which took place at Hilton Chicago on 720 S. Michigan Ave., featured an inspiring lineup of stories from educators, parents, corporate leaders and champions for early learning, including strategic advisor for children and youth in King County, Washington, Sheila Capestany. Capestany discussed the maternal health crisis and its root causes, highlighted its devastating data and proposed policy changes necessary for reproductive and health care equity.

Celebrating 40 years of impact, Start Early is a champion for quality early learning and care and has made tremendous strides toward closing the opportunity gap for our youngest learners. From its roots directly serving families and children on Chicago’s South Side and in rural Illinois to its work today impacting early childhood programs and policies nationwide, Start Early’s focus is grounded in the fact that starting early to nurture attachments between children and adults is essential to a child’s present and future well-being.

Contact Press@StartEarly.org for more information and media opportunities.

Earlier today, Illinois Governor JB Pritzker delivered a bold plan to advance our collective vision for Illinois to be the best state in the nation in which to raise young children. His comprehensive, multi-year plan, Smart Start Illinois, aims to expand and strengthen early care and education services to help ensure all expecting families, infants, toddlers and preschoolers across the state have what they need to be happy, healthy and ready to learn.

Moreover, Start Early applauds the Governor and his administration for releasing a Fiscal Year 2024 (FY 2024) budget framework that proposes a historic $320 million in increased state funding for key early care and education programs, like child care, home visiting, preschool and Early Intervention.

We thank Governor Pritzker for proposing the Smart Start Illinois initiative, a robust structure for strengthening and growing early child supports that are so vital for families with young children,” Ireta Gasner, Start Early vice president of Illinois policy, said. “This is a banner day for early childhood in Illinois, and Start Early looks forward to working with the Illinois General Assembly to enact a budget that does right by infants and toddlers across the state.” 

The budget proposal includes, among other provisions, the following funding increases: 

  • $40 million for the Early Intervention program (34.5% over FY 2023) to increase provider reimbursement rates (10%), to address service coordination challenges, and to accommodate the program’s growing caseload
  • $5 million for evidence-based home visiting programs (27.9% over FY 2023) to serve an additional 500-650 families
  • $130 million to establish workforce compensation contracts with child care providers that will allow programs to increase staff wages
  • $70 million for the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) (17.0% over FY 2023) to cover the program’s growing caseload and to improve its data system
  • $75 million for preschool services and prenatal-to-age 3 programs (12.5% over FY 2023) to create thousands of new slots and improve existing program quality
  • $100 million for the Early Childhood Construction Grant (ECCG) program

We are heartened by the administration’s acknowledgement that investing in the early learning workforce and facilities are foundational to sustainable program expansion. Today, too many early childhood programs, particularly those serving infants and toddlers, struggle to attract and retain educators and staff, most of whom are overworked and underpaid.

Start Early is eager to work with the Illinois General Assembly to approve a FY 2024 budget this spring that includes, at a minimum, the funding proposals laid out today. We couldn’t agree more with the Governor that now is the time for bold action.

Join Start Early in calling on our state legislature to prioritize our youngest learners today and during this new legislative session. Babies can’t wait.

Yesterday, the United States’ 117th Congress passed its end-of-year omnibus bill, which notably included reauthorization of the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) Program. The final package includes the highest level of federal investment in and commitment to home visiting in over a decade – doubling federal investments to $800 million over five years, a doubling of the Tribal set-aside from 3% to 6%, development of new home visiting data dashboards and the continuation of virtual home visits.

This MIECHV reauthorization cycle has been a clear testament to strong bipartisan recognition that home visiting, as well as other early childhood programs, are focal priority areas for families and the early childhood workforce. Start Early is especially proud of the strong showing of support from the Congressional delegations in our home states of Washington and Illinois. We are particularly grateful to Illinois Representative Danny K. Davis (D-IL7) for serving as a true home visiting champion and the original co-sponsor of the House of Representatives’ MIECHV reauthorization bill.

An estimated 140,000 families across the United States partner with home visitors each year to enhance parent-child relationships and improve physical health, mental health, learning and safety outcomes. With this five-year reauthorization and expanded funding levels, MIECHV-funded programs will have increased stability and resources to enhance existing services, reach new constituents, increase compensation for home visitors and continue to evaluate their impact on children and families.

Start Early is deeply proud and thankful to be a member of the National Home Visiting Coalition Steering Committee and for the Committee members’ partnership in advancing this critical funding source in Congress over the last several months. We join other Coalition members in thanking Congress and recommitting ourselves to partnering with the Department of Health and Human Services in support of MIECHV implementation in states and communities across the country.

In addition to reauthorizing and expanding MIECHV, the final package includes funding for a wide array of family-facing programs, including:

  • The Child Care Development Block Grant (CCDBG), funded at $8,021,387,000 (a 30.1% increase over the FY 2022 level)
  • The Preschool Development Grant (PDG), funded at $315,000,000 (a $25,000,000 increase over the FY 2022 level)
  • The Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA), funded at $420,000,000 for Part B (an increase of $10,451,000 over the FY 2022 level), $540,000,000 for Part C grants for infants and toddlers (an increase of $43,694,000 over the FY 2022 level), and $14.19 billion grants to states (an increase of $850,000,000 over FY 2022 level)
  • Head Start, funded at $11,996,820,000 (an increase of $960,000,000 over the FY 2022 level)
  • The National Child Traumatic Stress Initiative, funded at $93,900,000 (an increase at $12,000,000 over FY 2022 level)
  • Child Care Access Means Parents in School (CCAMPIS), funded at $75,000,000 (an increase of $10 million over the FY 2022 level)

These comprehensive investments align closely with Start Early’s long-held belief that we must strengthen and expand the many, intersecting systems that serve children and families to create a continuum of support that meets their diverse needs. The suite of family-serving programs supported by Congress in their year-end spending bill supports the mental, physical and economic needs of caregivers and the early childhood workforce.

While we celebrate these major wins for children and families, we recommit ourselves in the new, 118th Congress to advocate for early childhood supports that were not included in the omnibus. The Child Tax Credit and Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) are critical supports for families with low incomes, and Start Early is disappointed that these programs were not included in Congress’s year-end package. We call on the new Congress to partner with the early childhood field to extend and expand these critical programs in line with the new, approved investments and prioritize the health and success of children, families and the early childhood workforce.

Thank Congress for Championing Home Visiting

Thank your legislators for renewing and expanding critical home visiting investments in the 117th Congress’s Omnibus Bill.

Thank Congress

Start Early Leaders React

In response, Start Early leaders issued the following statements.

“Start Early is proud to celebrate the reauthorization and expansion of the federal Maternal, Infant & Early Childhood Home Visiting program. Congress’ final end-of year funding package, which also included several other important early childhood investments, demonstrated a historic and bipartisan display of the critical need for the prioritization of families with young children.

Start Early was founded on the notion that starting early and nurturing the attachments between children and caregivers are essential to a child’s present and future well-being. As such, with home visiting at the heart of Start Early’s work for over 40 years, we are committed to continue expanding the reach of programs and services to help ensure all families can experience those positive relationships and build a foundation of health and success for their newborn.

On behalf of children, families and home visiting programs across the country, I thank and commend the steadfast work of Congress and advocates who listened, shared personal stories, uplifted expertise and took action, efforts which made these transformative investments reality.”

– Diana Rauner, President

“Start Early applauds Congress’ final omnibus bill, which contains long-needed investments in several early childhood programs and services and particularly, the historic reauthorization of the Maternal, Infant & Early Childhood Home Visiting Program.

As part of the National Home Visiting Coalition’s Steering Committee, Start Early witnessed the successful impact of dedicated and collaborative efforts and expert-backed recommendations on behalf of America’s families and young children. We are proud to be a part of this critical work, and we expect this additional funding will transform and enhance home visiting programs through additional resources and capacity building.

Our team is eager to get to work with state and local legislators to effectively incorporate the package’s approved early childhood funds and policies into communities to reach more families and young children across the country.”

– Yvette Sanchez Fuentes, Vice President, National Policy

“Caring for a newborn child is one of life’s most important roles, yet far too many parents do not have equitable access to resources and supports. I applaud Congress for recognizing this reality and including the Jackie Walorski Maternal & Child Home Visiting Reauthorization Act in its end-of-year funding package, increasing funding and expanding home visiting services for communities nationwide.

The partnership between families and home visitors, built on a foundation of trust, supports healthy parent-child relationships, and encourages positive family health, development and overall well-being. All of these factors ultimately lay a strong foundation for a child’s health and success, so with this latest win, more children will have the opportunity to thrive.”

– Kelly Woodlock, Vice President, National Home Visiting

“The federal Jackie Walorski Maternal & Child Home Visiting Reauthorization Act is an historic and transformative investment that will support more families, communities and home visiting programs in Washington state with essential services than ever before.

I continue to be inspired by the thousands of families reached by MIECHV’s home visiting services in Washington today and the perseverance and dedication of the home visitors who support them. My hope is that this expanded funding will provide the resources and capacity to reach more families – particularly those in tribal communities and rural areas – with home visiting’s critical tools and resources to help families thrive.

On behalf of Start Early Washington and families and home visitors across the state, I applaud Congress and advocates for making MIECHV reauthorization and expansion a priority. We look forward to continue building our decades of home visiting expertise and direct work here in Washington to increase access to home visiting services for families statewide.”

– Valisa Smith, Executive Director, Start Early Washington

Ahead of Illinois’ midterm and gubernatorial elections next month, in a recent survey, voters across the state made it clear that they want to see increased attention towards early childhood services. In fact, the vast majority of survey respondents believe that investing in early childhood education and care is a good use of taxpayer dollars – and most would even be willing to pay more in taxes to fund it.

Start Early conducted this latest survey on behalf of state advocates to measure the level of support for early education among voters. The results were unequivocal – Illinois voters value early childhood education and care and want to see government action.

Eight in 10 voters say investing in early childhood education and care is a good use of taxpayer dollars. Among key groups like Black voters (55%) and those in Chicago’s suburbs (53%), a majority believe it to be a very good use of tax dollars. A majority of voters (56%), including nearly 75% of Black voters, went even further to say they are willing to pay a little more in taxes if it meant the state had better services for families with young children.

While partisanship continues to divide voters in many other policy areas, the survey’s findings also demonstrated that the early childhood education and care discussion goes far beyond political lines: 90% of Democrats, 73% of Independents and 70% of Republicans support government action and investment in early childhood programs and services.

Home to approximately 800,000 children under age 5, Illinois has a prominent history of investing in early care and education, spanning four decades under leadership of both Republican and Democratic state administrations. As the state prepares for its midterm elections, most timely is the survey’s bipartisan finding that most voters (70%) would feel more favorably towards a candidate who prioritizes an increase in funding for early childhood services.

“While Illinois has long been at the forefront of early learning and care innovations and investments, our system, like that of most states, has its challenges and real shortcomings,” Start Early Vice President of Illinois Policy Ireta Gasner says. “Without decisive action by our elected Governor and state legislators, critical components of the system will collapse – leaving countless young children and those who care for them behind.”

Decades of research have proven that quality early childhood programs can help break the cycle of poverty for generations to come and can change the trajectory of a child’s life toward healthy development and success. Yet, families – particularly those in communities left under-served – continue to face impossible challenges in accessing such early learning experiences.

As Illinois works to mitigate these challenges, often brought on by systematic inequities, voters reported that funding services for children experiencing homelessness and for children with disabilities or developmental delays should be priority focus areas of the state. Voters also ranked early childhood services as the second most important way to address the root causes of crime, a traumatic reality for far too many young children.

Start Early and its advocate partners across the state are passionately working to advance transformational change of the early childhood system in order to reach families and those who provide early learning services. This powerful survey data reaffirms that Illinois voters share advocates’ desires, and offers policymakers a renewed opportunity this upcoming legislative session to redouble efforts to make early learning a reality for all young children.

Conducted in partnership with Global Strategy Group, the survey of 609 registered voters in Illinois took place between September 8 – 12, 2022, and an intentional focus was placed on ensuring diverse demographic and geographic representation among voters. Interviews were conducted over the phone and text to web.

Key Findings:

  • A majority of overall voters say early childhood education and care is a good use of taxpayer dollars.
    • Eight in ten voters say investing in early childhood education and care is a good use of taxpayer dollars.
    • Among key groups like Black voters (55%) and those in the Cook suburbs (53%),a majority believe it to be a very good use of tax dollars.
    • Taking action and using taxpayer dollars to invest in early childhood education and care garners bipartisan support across the political spectrum with 90% of Democrats, 73% of Independents, and 70% of Republicans believing it is a good investment.
  • Most voters are even willing to pay more in taxes to fund early childhood and care services.
    • A majority of voters (56%) say they are willing to pay a little more in taxes if it meant the state had better services for families with young children, including nearly three-quarters of Black voters (72%).
    • Half of voters believe the state government is not spending enough on services for young children and their families, even higher among parents (54%), especially parents of color (52%).
  • Voters believe elected officials are not talking about or focused enough on early childhood services.
    • Half of voters believe their elected officials are not talking enough about early childhood services (52%) and believe they are not focused enough on the issue (53%).
    • This is especially true of key groups like Independents, of whom two-thirds (68%) believe their elected officials are not talking enough about the issue.
    • Similarly, parents of those under the age of six overwhelmingly believe elected officials are not talking about (67%) or focused enough (66%) on early childhood services.
  • According to voters, the state government does not do enough to help new parents and families meet their responsibilities.
    • About half of voters overall believe the state government is not doing enough to help new parents and families.
    • This increases to nearly two-thirds of voters of color (65% of Black voters and 66% of Hispanic voters).
  • Support for this issue goes beyond party lines and has widespread support: 80% of Democrats, 58% of Independents, and 51% of Republicans want the state to fund programs aimed at making childcare more affordable
  • There are many other specific services or programs related to early childhood that share support from a majority of the electorate.
    • Helping those who face the steepest challenges, like homeless children and those with disabilities, is extremely popular across partisan lines.
    • Even 69% of Republicans believe the state should be doing more to fund services to care for children who are homeless and 75% of Independents also feel the same way.
  • Early childhood services are seen as a way to address crime.
    • Illinois voters are concerned about crime (32% rank it as their first or second most important issue) and want to prioritize addressing the root causes of crime early in children’s lives (60%), over short-term actions like tougher sentencing.
    • Addressing root causes are prioritized across the board, including independents (55%) and those in the collar counties (60%).
    • Providing early childhood services ranks second as the most important way to address these root causes.

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This week, President Joe Biden is expected to approve Congress’ final budget reconciliation package, the Inflation Reduction Act, which does not include one cent for early learning and care programs. This outcome is yet another senseless decision in our nation’s history that leaves countless young children without access to critical programs that can help ensure a brighter future.

This spring, the House of Representatives passed budget reconciliation legislation that included nearly $400 billion for child care and pre-K, which was among the largest proposed investments in the package. However, earlier this month, the Senate unveiled the details of its final package, which included no funding at all for early learning and care.

For a nation’s child care system that is at the brink of collapse, this investment would have considerably lowered child care costs for families, allowed parents of young children to return to work and supported an underfunded and understaffed early learning and care workforce.

Long before today’s ongoing pandemic and societal uncertainty, child care providers, disproportionately women and women of color, have had to bear the burden of an under-resourced child care system to provide critical, quality programs and services to young children.

So, now more than ever, it seemed apparent to finally prioritize American families and child care providers with historic investments. Congress’ failure to do so will result in long-range consequences for our child care system.

Start Early and the Educare Network, however, are and will continue to be constant and persistent champions for our youngest learners. We will:

  • Work with Congress, federal agencies and the administration, as well as state and local leaders, to strengthen early learning and care programs and drive advancements that impact on-the-ground practices and communities
  • Advocate for increased investments in and positive changes to federal early learning programs, including the Child Care Development Block Grant, Head Start/Early Head Start, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and Maternal, Infant Early Childhood Home Visiting program
  • Educate and inform the field of provisions within the Inflation Reduction Act that may benefit families with young children

In addition, as co-chair of the Early Years Climate Action Task Force, Start Early President Diana Rauner will play a role in drafting the first ever climate action plan for early childhood in America. This will include recommendations to explore how the country can support young children to flourish, despite facing the impacts of climate change.

In response to this disheartening news, Start Early and Educare Network leaders issued the following statements:

Start Early

“Quality early learning and care in the first five years of life allows every child the opportunity to develop and meet their full potential. This week, Congress ignored common sense and science, allowing the child care system to continue deteriorating and leaving future generations behind.

Start Early stands ready to continue its work with local, state and federal leaders to elevate the dire, diverse needs of American families and ultimately make transformational change in access, quality and outcomes for all young children.”

Diana Rauner, president of Start Early

Educare Network

“Every child, in every community, deserves a strong start in life. This final reconciliation package entirely disregards what matters most: creating supports and systems that work for families, our youngest learners and early care and education providers. With our 25 schools and partner organizations across the country, the Educare Network calls on local, state and federal leaders to take immediate action that rights this wrong and drives transformational change to ensure all families, children and communities can thrive.”

Cynthia Jackson, executive director of the Educare Network

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Portia Kennel at an Educare Speaking EngagementAfter a career in early childhood education spanning three decades, Portia Kennel – catalyst and one of the co-founders of the Educare Learning Network, a powerful network of birth-to-five schools that has improved access to high-quality early education across the country – is retiring from her position as Senior Advisor to the Buffett Early Childhood Fund.

Prior to her time with the Buffett Early Childhood Fund, Portia served as the Senior Vice President of Program Innovation at Start Early (formerly the Ounce of Prevention Fund). In 2000, she created the first-ever Educare school in Chicago to serve young children and their families on Chicago’s South Side. As the Executive Director of the Educare Learning Network, Portia led the expansion of the Educare model to a diverse range of communities across the country, from one school in Chicago to 25 schools nationwide.

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“Portia’s passion and commitment to serving children the last several decades have helped shape Start Early into the organization that we are today,” Diana Rauner, Start Early President and longtime colleague of Portia, shared. “Her drive, perspective and guidance continue to resonate through the halls of our offices and within the values that inform our work. I am so proud of what we created together through the Educare Learning Network, and I believe that the best is yet to come thanks to her foundational presence. The early learning community is grateful for Portia, and we wish her well in this next chapter of life.”

Portia's passion and commitment to serving children the last several decades have helped shape Start Early into the organization that we are today.

Diana Rauner, president, Start Early
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Portia is also a former Head Start Director and has significant experience in the design, implementation and management of effective, evidence-based early childhood education and family support program models. Her work is grounded in an understanding of family systems and clinical issues related to working with families in disinvested communities. She holds a master’s degree in social work from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana and is a ZERO TO THREE Fellow.

“We’re so grateful to Portia for her contribution to the early childhood field broadly, and to the Educare Learning Network specifically,” Cynthia Jackson, Executive Director of the Educare Learning Network and Senior Vice President at Start Early, said. “Twelve years ago, Portia invited me to serve as a leader of leaders in this Network. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to serve under an African American woman, mentor, teacher, visionary and colleague. Thank you, Portia – from the Network and from me personally. What an innovator you have been.”

Start Early and the Educare Learning Network congratulate Portia on a remarkable career and thank her for the groundbreaking legacy in early childhood education she started with our Network!


Portia Kennel’s Parting Remarks

What a journey this has been! Reflecting on the early days of Educare, my mentor Judy Bertacchi comes to mind. Judy was a pioneer leader in training early childhood staff how to implement and embed reflective supervision into early childhood programs. She always said how important it was to “get the birth story” of each child because it would inform the work you’d do with the family. So, today I am going to share the birth story of Educare, because I believe it will inform the future as the Network goes forward.

The idea for Educare grew out of The Beethoven Project, an initiative began by Start Early (then the Ounce of Prevention) in 1986 to bring early learning programs and other services to communities in Chicago’s Grand Boulevard neighborhood on the south side. At that time, this neighborhood was home to the Robert Taylor Homes, which was one of the largest public housing developments in the poorest census tract in the country.

When the Chicago Housing Authority began demolishing the Robert Taylor Homes in the late 1990s, many families began leaving the community as public services started to vanish. I have never seen so many thousands of families disappear what seems like overnight. But we decided we were in it for the long haul, and we stayed. It was very important to us, since so many institutions were abandoning these families, that they knew we would not abandon our commitment to them.

That’s why we started building our own early childhood education center: to serve families who were displaced by the loss of their homes and now rebuilding their community, and to create a school whose culture and environment said – and still to this day says – “You matter.” So, we partnered with the city of Chicago, the Office of Head Start, and other private funders to build our first school, Educare Chicago, which we opened in 2000.

And Educare Chicago was just the beginning! Fast forwarding two decades to now, that first school inspired the creation of the Educare Learning Network, 25 schools across the country that are models for high-quality care and education in their communities and nationwide.

I led the expansion of our Network from one school to many for three reasons: to learn from each other, to support each other and problem solve together, and because I hoped that by coming together, our collective power would have a better chance of addressing challenges in the field. What we had in common was a shared interest in showcasing quality in our communities through Educare schools, demonstrating what is possible with services for children and families, and increasing our impact as catalysts for positive change. In other words, I believed we could do more together than any of us could do alone. And in today’s world, our critical work is to continue to harness and leverage the collective power of the Educare Learning Network to transform the early childhood world.

As I now leave the Network, my first hope is that you will increase your collective impact and efforts. The Network has yet to realize its full potential. We all agree changes are needed to address the systemic issues that have plagued the early childhood system for so long: quality, access, workforce recruitment, retention, racism, compensation and more, many of which have been amplified by the pandemic.

My second hope for the future is that in addition to an ongoing focus on racial equity, the Network will prioritize efforts to ensure the systematic and sustained inclusion, participation and leadership of parents in the planning, development, decision-making, implementation and evaluation of early childhood work. That means centering and elevating the voices of parents to ensure their lived experiences inform and help address the challenges the early childhood system faces. As Glenn Martin of JustLeadershipUSA says, I believe those closest to the problem are closest to the solution. Investing in parent leaders as early childhood advocates and change agents strengthens our chances for success.

We’re all in this together: parents and families, early childhood leaders, educators, family support practitioners, childcare providers, policymakers, advocates, public and private partners, and communities. We must work together to find solutions.

I thank all of you for what I have learned from you. I thank Jessie Rasmussen and the Buffett Early Childhood Fund, Diana Rauner and Start Early for all they have done to support the continued growth and development of the Educare Learning Network. The Network would not have been possible without the partnership and support of both organizations, and of course the participation of all of you early childhood champions.

Go forth, Educare Learning Network, and cause some good trouble!

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