Florida's initial work on a state economic impact report was undertaken after early care leaders and advocates attended a conference sponsored by the Child Care Bureau which included a presentation on linking child care and economic development. It was anticipated that a state report would serve as a good tool in highlighting the important role of early care and education (ECE) and making the business case for investment. A team of state leaders representing the business, economic development, ECE and government fields worked to complete the work. The report serves as a resource to educate the public and the legislature about the economic importance of ECE. The report was targeted, in particular, to the business community with a summary of the report sent to the state business journals with a cover letter including testimony from business leaders. Efforts at the state policy level have taken longer to develop and the current economic downturn has hampered new policy efforts. This is adding to the challenge of leveraging new funding in a state with no state income tax.
Using Economic Messages
Though the current economic environment has left many ECE advocates looking for new approaches to working with the state legislature, deliberate and strategic thinking by state leadership to link school readiness and workforce development has created a state structure that integrates ECE with state workforce and economic development initiatives.
In 2001, the Office of Early Learning was moved within the Agency for Workforce Innovation. The thinking behind this decision was based in the mission of the Agency for Workforce Innovation to support Floridians in finding good employment, getting them to work and helping families build economic prosperity. Child care subsidy plays a critical role in helping families find and retain good employment and is part of a much larger ECE system that provides the foundation for building a future workforce. These linkages became more pronounced as economic changes highlighted the role of ECE in supporting workers and their families and helping those seeking work to reenter the workforce.
A return on investments at the state, county, community, family and child level is a key part of the information shared by the Florida Children's Councils. Messages aimed at state policy makers highlight the cost and benefits of investments and draw on a local and state government perspectives and use a business approach to show the impact of early care investments on the state economy and workforce. The same evidence-based approach to implementing children's services is being applied to advocacy efforts working to increase public and private investment in children. In keeping with this economic approach, the Florida Children's Council is funding a project to apply the economic and return on investment message to after-school programming. Data collection is currently underway to better understand current spending and services and consider the return on these investments. Results will be targeted particularly to the business community that readily connects investments in after-school to work productivity.
Boosting the Economic Power of Early Care and Education: Key Highlights
The Florida Children's Council is working with partners on a strategy to better educate and engage the public on children's issues. The council wants to build a stronger base of support and calls upon business and economic development groups in the state to join this collaboration. The group will consider short- and long-term impacts of investment in children and new approaches for considering policy options and actions by state lawmakers. Efforts will focus on a three- to five-year time horizon for considering returns on investments.
Creating a shared vision to guide Florida's commitment to children and families was a key outcome of the 2006 Florida's Children Summit. Sponsored by several state legislators this event gathered more than 1,000 Floridians to identify and discuss policy issues and recommendations around early learning. The outcomes of the discussion framed the proposals outlined in the Florida Children's Action Agenda 2007/2008. The agenda priorities were developed with a long-term goal of creating a cohesive ECE system for children and families. These action recommendations were put before the state legislation for consideration and action.
Florida was awarded a grant from the National Governors Association to support Governor Crist's efforts to elevate the importance of investing in young children. In January 2008 the Agency for Workforce Innovations hosted the Governor's Summit on Education, Workforce and Economic Development. This three-day event included national speakers who spoke to the importance of ECE and the link between ECE and economic development and state system building. Invitations were extended to businesses, health care providers, higher education leaders and the media. Teams from local ECE coalitions also participated as part of efforts to create community action plans. One goal, with additional funding, is to recreate the summit at the local level, share the local early learning council plans with the community, and gather input on how the state can help local efforts. In addition, early planning is underway for a second summit that will focus on including business partners. This is an opportunity to ask the Florida Chamber, trade and tourism, industry associations and other statewide business organizations to take more active roles. Those businesses involved in the first summit have voiced their interest in having ECE be the central focus of the conference agenda.
State and Legislative Actions
In 1999, the Florida Partnership for School Readiness was created through legislative statute to create a more comprehensive and connected system of ECE programs. The legislation allowed for the establishment of 31 quasi-governmental early learning coalitions. These local coalitions have been working to assess local needs and develop a service delivery plan to serve young children.
In 2002, voters passed a ballot initiative in support of a voluntary publicly funded pre-kindergarten program for four-year olds starting in the fall of 2005. In December 2004 the Florida Legislature passed HB 1A, creating the Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten program which provides families the option of enrolling their children in a free Pre-K program the year prior to starting kindergarten. Governor Bush signed the bill into law in January 2005. The program started in the 2005-2006 school year.
Child Care Executive Partnership is a public-private partnership created in 1996 by the Florida state legislature to help business meet the needs of their working parents. Businesses can help subsidize the child care costs of their own employees or work with their local early care coalition to invest in a purchasing pool. The state matches dollar for dollar all business investments. The economic impact report was particularly helpful in targeting business participation in the program. Local county efforts to engage business in early care, such as the Early Learning Childhood Care and Education Task Force of the Manatee County Chamber and the Gulf Coast Early Learning Consortium Business Roundtable in Naples, hosted informational sessions about the Child Care Executive Partnership to encourage participation.
In 2007, the legislature established the Florida Children and Youth Cabinet. The Cabinet is chaired by the Lt. Governor and its membership includes all State Secretaries whose departments touch the lives of children. The Cabinet is beginning its work by setting a mission and areas of focus. The Governorâ€™s Summit planning group has provided staff support, information and research to the Cabinet. The Cabinet created a forum for direct communication between agencies and a better understanding of the connections between ECE and other areas of economic and workforce development. It has the potential for significant agency collaboration and provides a structure to consider best practices and structural changes to increase efficiencies and benefits achieved by state investments.
A steering committee is working to develop a professional development system for ECE professionals. The first step is determining core competencies and the second is the design of career pathways and articulation. Community colleges, higher education institutions and academics, and ECE providers are participating in the committee. In addition, a community college early childhood network is looking at needs of the ECE workforce.
The Florida Children's Service Councils are a unique part of Florida's ECE advocacy network in their construct and ability to provide children's services. The councils are special taxing districts with a mission of early learning, intervention and prevention. There are 11 councils serving most major urban areas of the state. Three are part of the county government structure and the other 8 are independent taxing districts created through voter approval on their local county ballot. These organizations have a dedicated revenue stream used to implement local programs and create a seamless system for children and families. In 2005 – 2006 these districts invested $400 million in their communities.
Child Care Executive Partnership provides detailed information about the program including its initial legislation and board members. There is also information on absenteeism and the cost of child care breakdowns, and how to participate.
Florida's Children Summit website details the summit event along with background information and materials on the workshop recommendations.
The Children's Forum is not-for-profit organization working to increase the quality, affordability, and availability of child care and early education in Florida. The website has a variety of information and materials for parents and advocates on its programs as well as research and publications, training, special initiatives and other resources.