With the help of a committed group of partners, South Carolina completed an economic impact study of their child care sector that was released in the summer of 2006. The report includes broad recommendations for action on behalf of children and families. The economic impact report provides a vehicle for talking about the importance of ECE. More people are now aware of these linkages even among the child advocacy field. The economic message offers a platform for increasing outreach across the state. It also ensures that the issue of quality remains central to the ECE discussion. The completion of the report coincided with a statewide quality rating system survey conducted with over 1,200 parents.
A December 2005 court ruling in an equity suit brought by eight rural counties against the state found there was a lack of equity in early education programs that disproportionately impacts children in poor counties. To address the ruling, the Legislature responded by increasing resources for 4-year old kindergarten and taking up the issue of quality standards. The ruling has created an opportunity to use the economic impact message as a tool in sharing the message that early education inequity doesn’t start at age four.
Using Economic Messages
South Carolina has experienced state and local investments in ECE in recent years. Local efforts that bring business partners and community leaders to the table help push forward state action on behalf of children and families. United Way agencies, along with local businesses and other community based organizations are lead partners in achieving these accomplishments. The economic impact message has educated state and local leaders and provided a new framework to consider how best to implement ECE programs. It has also helped to think more strategically about proposed policy recommendations and creating an ECE system. Action items that local government, cities and business can take hold of give new partners a concrete means of making an impact. The City of Greenville is one place where this approach has taken hold.
The Child Care Initiative of Greenville County was launched in 2002 by the United Way of Greenville County Success by 6, the Chamber of Commerce and a small group of community partners. The Initiative was conceived following the release of a study commissioned in 2001 on the availability, affordability and quality of child care for Greenville County that found poor results. Having this data and information about the child care sector validated the need and generated community buy-in to move forward in seeking solutions. The first outcome was the development of a strategic plan that has guided the last five years of work. Significant gains have been made in quality and availability by engaging the local economic development sector, government and business community in early education efforts. Different stakeholders have taken the lead in implementing the objectives in the strategic plan.
The United Way of Greenville has taken a very proactive approach in reaching out to the community. They completed an employer survey that was helpful in engaging business and creating a new dialogue. They partnered with the Junior Women’s League as a way of joining new discussion tables where they could build relationships and the community’s knowledge of ECE issues. They also host a children’s leadership event each year where new ‘champions’ are selected as ECE spokespersons.
The City of Greenville and United Way worked together to create an ECE strategic plan tied to neighborhood and community development. As part of that effort the United Way conducted the city’s family friendly employment practices and what they might do better. The city agreed to implement one idea and as a result an employee lactation room was created and child care materials were added to the employee information area.
The Greenville Chamber of Commerce sponsors an Our Children Series on the Chamber video website that highlights ECE from the perspective of a parent and provider, employer and economic developer.
All municipalities in Greenville County have signed an early childhood proclamation. This helped launch the Futures Investment Groups whose members include area businesses, chambers and economic development groups. Businesses are seeing the cost of retention and turnover and want to position themselves to take advantage of the good economic opportunities happening in Greenville area. A presentation on the economic impact of child care was also made at the Upstate Alliance Economic Development Group.
First Steps South Carolina, created in 1999, is a comprehensive, results-oriented statewide education initiative to help prepare children to reach first grade healthy and ready to succeed. There is a First Steps partnership in each county which includes businesses, community leaders, early education professionals, parents, and other partners. First Steps partnerships identify local early care needs and work to meet them through leveraging public, private, grant and other resources. It is working with New Carolina, the biggest business coalition in the state, as part of their education and workforce development committee. The newly drafted workforce goals include efforts to close the achievement gap and address poverty. Quality child care is included in this goal area.
Boosting the Economic Power of Early Care and Education: Key Highlights
South Carolina’s release of the state economic impact report in 2006 afforded an opportunity for Rob Grunewald of the Federal Reserve to speak about ECE investments. The United Way, which helped sponsor the event, also hosted a business dinner to talk about the result of the report and the economic impact message.
The United Way Association of South Carolina, Pew Charitable Trusts, and CED hosted 4 forums in cities across the state to not only educate key business leaders and policy makers about the economic impact of ECE but challenge them in a call to action. The forums were designed to encourage businesses to take a stronger advocacy role in early education and persuade the Legislature to increase investments in pre-kindergarten.
In 2005, The Riley Institute at Furman University conducted a study to learn what stakeholders in the state education system identified as strengths and weaknesses of the South Carolina public schools and what they would recommend for improving education from early childhood through high school. More than 800 people participated in the study. There was a high level of agreement in three main strategies including making high-quality ECE available in all public schools. Four-year-old kindergarten and public early childhood education programs for all 3- and 4-year olds were included among the action identified as priorities for achieving the stated goals. Next steps are forthcoming.
State and Legislative Actions
The Governor of South Carolina, with funding from the National Governors Association, hosted a summit on early education in 2007. The focus of the summit was on the development of an ECE system. The summit was an opportunity to assess what the various children services sectors need to help children get ready for school. Next steps are to host 7 regional meetings across the state to see how communities are doing in efforts to complete their own local ECE planning.
In 1999, the State Legislature authorized the creation of the South Carolina First Steps to School Readiness program to improve early childhood development by providing funding and support for high quality early education program delivered through local county partnerships.
In 2006, in response to the equity law suit ruling, the Legislature charged First Steps with convening a task force to look at quality ECE standards. The Task Force was co-chaired by the Director of South Carolina First Steps to School Readiness and the President of the United Way Association of South Carolina. Representation on the task force included child advocates and providers as well as business and legislative members. Blue Cross and Bank of America were among those state businesses represented. The group spent a significant amount of time talking about critical issues not just in terms of a rating system but in identifying the resources required to improve quality. After the first year, an interim report was issued along with the recommendation to form a sub-committee to look specifically at the standards. The Task Force also called on national researchers and consultants to help frame a final report that emphasized South Carolina’s need for a quality based incentive system that addressed both standard of care along with the resources necessary to improve quality. The final report drew heavily on the economic impact message and made a business case for improving the quality of care. It also sited efforts in other states to link child care and economic development like Louisiana’s recent tax credit package. The report used recommendations from the South Carolina Economic Impact Report as a basis for more specific action items. The final report was sent to the Governor and Legislature. The business leaders on the task force also authored an op-ed piece in the paper talking about linking child care vouchers to quality standards. The Task Force is looking toward the next legislative session to move forward some of the items submitted in their final report.
South Carolina has a well crafted child care business tax credit that has not been taken advantage. First Steps would like build on preliminary work done by a Clemson student to evaluate why the credit has not had much uptake – whether the credit is not well designed or if it is an education and awareness problem. First Step is interested in making this credit a more useful tool.
The Legislature is currently considering a bill to require state-funded child care vouchers to be used at facilities that meet a standard level of quality.
First Steps South Carolina, is the state program aimed at improving school readiness outcomes. Each South Carolina County has a First Steps Partnership that assesses ECE needs and leverages state, private, philanthropic and other resources to serve children and their families. The website has information on state and local efforts, program reports, child care data and other ECE resources.