New Jersey’s early care and education (ECE) system changed radically when the Abbott v. Burke decision from the State Supreme Court in 1998 demanded that school districts serving primarily low-income families receive additional funds to offer high-quality Pre-K programs so that children are prepared to succeed in school. In “Abbott” Pre-K programs, teachers have Bachelors degrees and early childhood certifications, programs use an approved curriculum, class sizes and staff-to-child ratios are small, and the program operates for six and a half hours per day. Today, 31 districts receive Abbott funds for Pre-K.
In 2004, the Early Launch to Learning Initiative (ELLI) was created to provide programs similar to Abbott to all four-year-olds in the state. A total of 30 school districts receive ELLI funds for Pre-K.
The state also offers school districts funds through Early Childhood Program Aid (ECPA) funding to provide Pre-K to four-year-olds.
New Jersey currently has a two-tiered system of reimbursement. Centers and family child care homes accredited under national standards, such as the National Association for the Early Education of Young Children, receive a 5 percent higher reimbursement rate. Only about 8 percent of licensed child care centers in New Jersey are accredited, and even fewer family child care homes meet national standards.
The John S. Watson Institute for Public Policy at Thomas Edison State College led the formation of a statewide Economic Impact Council in 2005, composed of early childhood providers, advocates, business leaders and government officials. The Council led the completion of an economic impact study in 2006, which was funded by a unique association of the Hispanic Directors Association of New Jersey; the New Jersey Department of Human Services; Children’s Futures; the Non-Profit Finance Fund; and Thomas Edison State College.
Using Economic Messages
Once the economic impact study was completed, but before it was released, Council members met with Phil Sparks from the Communications Consortium Media Center to ensure that effective messages for target audiences were used at the release events and on the executive summary and release materials, such as press releases, printed invitation, and talking points for speakers.
After the report was released, the Council set up roll-out events across the state, developing partnerships to review the study’s findings and key recommendations with business, municipal officials and child care and early education providers. For example, a sub-committee of the Economic Impact Council met with U.S. Senator Robert Menendez’s staff on June 22, 2006.
The Mercer County Chamber of Commerce focused the January, 2007, issue of Mercer Business magazine on employment and education. The issue featured an article entitled “Child Care Industry is State’s Invisible Economic Powerhouse,” detailing the economic impact study of early care and education in New Jersey.
In April 2007, members of the Economic Impact Council met with representatives from the state Department of Labor to discuss the report’s findings and ways in which the department could support the recommendations of the report.
In May 2007 the Economic Impact Council hosted a South Jersey Community Business Breakfast at Rutgers University’s Camden campus. The event was attended by approximately 40 South Jersey leaders. The speakers and panelists included the Honorable Gwendolyn A. Faison, Mayor of the City of Camden; the Honorable Angle Fuentes, President of the City of Camden’s City Council; Helen Yeldell, Senior Legislative Analyst for the New Jersey League of Municipalities; Dr. Gloria Bonilla-Santiago, Director of the Rutgers Camden-Center for Strategic Urban Community Leadership; Arthur C. Campbell, President and CEO of the Cherry Hill Regional Chamber of Commerce; Joanne Bursich, Site Director of the Nonprofit Finance Fund of Philadelphia; Dr. Dan Martin, CEO of Archways Program; and Economic Impact Council leaders.
Boosting the Economic Power of Early Care and Education: Key Highlights
In 2006, several representatives from the Economic Impact Council sought and were awarded a Building Early Childhood Systems grant from the National Governors Association. The grant supports the Governor’s leadership in building a comprehensive, coordinated early childhood system from birth to age five called “Ready, Set, Grow.” New Jersey’s plan, which is still underway in 2008, is rooted in the current context of investments, policy innovations, opportunities, and challenges to building an early childhood system, and current systems-building efforts already underway. The plan will be used to identify opportunities to leverage funds for ECE and improve data collection efforts. The interdisciplinary policy team will also develop a strategy for reaching out to a new set of diverse stakeholders. Long-term goals include creating a governance structure, improving data collection, creating an Early Learning Council; and coordinating service delivery for parents and children at the state and local levels.
On November 13, 2006, a sub-committee of the Economic Impact Council met with the State Secretary of Commerce. As a result of the meeting, the Department of Commerce agreed to provide a link to the New Jersey Association of Resource and Referral Agencies (NJARRA) on their website.
The need for more support for ECE facilities has been highlighted by statewide advocacy organizations such as the Education Law Center, and addressed by loan providers such as the Nonprofit Facilities Fund, New Jersey Community Capital, and LISC.
In 2007, the New Jersey State League of Municipalities formally partnered with the Economic Impact Council. The League announced the partnership to all Mayors throughout New Jersey, included a special session titled “Child Care Industry - An Economic Driver in New Jersey” in its 2007 annual conference. In 2008, the Economic Impact Council was awarded $5,000 from the Linking Child Care and Economic Development Venture Grant Fund to extend this partnership. Together the Council and the League conducted a survey of New Jersey’s municipal leaders and hosted a webinar for mayors and other municipal leaders on October 14, 2008. The webinar described ways that municipal leaders in New Jersey can make their municipalities more family-friendly as an economic development strategy. The League is pursuing opportunities to promote literacy among New Jersey’s municipalities.
State and Legislative Actions
In 2004, the Early Launch to Learning Initiative (ELLI) was established and $15 million was allocated, enabling 30 districts to offer ELLI programs.
In 2005, the state legislature appropriated an additional $10 million for the Abbott Pre-K program to serve an additional 3,000 children in Abbott districts, and cut $11 million from ELLI.
In 2006, the state legislature appropriated an additional $47 million for Abbott programs.
In 2006, Governor Corzine signed an executive order allowing home-based providers union bargaining rights. Providers became members of the Child Care Workers Union (CCWU), a joint effort by AFSCME and the Communications Workers of America (CWA).
In 2007, the legislature approved $10 million for a new initiative, the Preschool Quality Enhancement Grants and increased funding for the Abbott program by an additional $3.1 million.
In 2007, legislation passed that allows students attending New Jersey’s community colleges to transfer to one of the state’s four-year public institutions. The law enables community college students who have obtained their associate’s degree to seamlessly transfer their academic credits towards a baccalaureate degree program. With a completed associate’s degree, a student will be able to fully transfer to one of the state’s four year universities and have that degree count towards the first two years of a baccalaureate degree.
In 2008, Governor Corzine proposed and the legislature approved an expansion of Abbott Pre-K to 115 school districts. School districts that were not previously identified within the Abbott guidelines and that have more than 40 percent of students at or below 185 percent of the federal poverty threshold can access state funding to provide Pre-K to all three- and four-year-olds. Any child who qualifies for free- or reduced-price lunch is eligible for Pre-K paid for by the state through school funding dollars.
In April 2008, New Jersey became the third state in the nation to enact paid family leave legislation. The legislation provides six weeks of temporary disability insurance (two-thirds wage replacement up to a specified maximum, which was $524 per week in 2008) to workers to care for sick family members or to bond with newborn or newly adopted children. It is funded through employee payroll deductions. The law becomes effective January, 2009, and workers can start taking leave in July, 2009.
Education Law Center uses public education and engagement, policy initiatives, research, legal action, and direct legal assistance to ensure equal and adequate education under state and federal laws. The center also works to ensure effective implementation of the programs and reforms ordered in the landmark Abbott v. Burke school funding case (for which the center represented school children) and supports advocates in other states seeking to improve public education.
National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) is a national research and advocacy institute housed at Rutgers University. The institute conducts and distributes research on national advances in Pre-K quality and access, New Jersey's early education programs, and other topics in early care and education.
Nonprofit Facilities Fund is working towards assisting child care providers to overcome the barriers in expanding their programs and facilities to keep pace with the recent boom in demand for services. The fund leads a group of banks and CDFIs in a program called the Child Care Expansion Consortium (CHEX).
The Association for Children of New Jersey (ACNJ) provides research and advocacy for New Jersey's children. Over the years, ACNJ's issues have expanded from child welfare and juvenile justice to include early care and education, health and support for low-income families.
The New Jersey State League of Municipalities announced its partnership with the Early Care and Education Economic Impact Council on April, 2007. Read the letter the League sent to every Mayor in New Jersey.