Pennsylvania Blazes a Trail in Early Childhood Systems Collaboration

Article excerpt

In May 2007, Speaker Nancy Pelosi convened the National Summit on America's Children on Capitol Hill to bring national focus to early developmental needs and issues among children from birth to age 5. A panel of experts drawn from diverse fields spoke about the intense need for responsive and multidisciplinary policy approaches to support the early care, development and school readiness of young children, particularly those in low-income families.

The attention this national spotlight brought to the range of services that might best meet the needs of infants through kindergarten-aged children and their families was timely. In 2006, Congress passed the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005, increasing the number of families receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families who, through their participation in work activities, would need subsidized child care services funded by the Child Care and Development Block Grant. In addition, the state pre-kindergarten movement has gained national momentum in the past few years. Forty-one states and the District of Columbia currently operate pre-k programs. According to the national advocacy organization Pre-K Now, states spent about $4.3 billion on pre-k initiatives in 2007. In 2008, state spending on pre-k initiatives will increase by $258 million, and extend to 88,000 more children. Many states are working to develop comprehensive policy initiatives and service strategies to improve early childhood systems that encompass the needs of children up to elementary school entry level and across a variety of settings, including subsidized and private child care, Head Start, and pre-k. Pennsylvania is among states that have embraced change within state agency structure and cross-system collaboration in expanding their early care and education plan.

The last year has seen developments within Pennsylvania that continue the state's trend of policy innovation via a collaborative systemic approach to serving children from birth through age 5. Building on governance changes that begin in 2004, Gov. Ed Rendell established the Office of Child Development and Early Learning in 2007. Housed in the Departments of Public Welfare and Education, OCDEL oversees the child care subsidy program, certification processes for child care facilities, the state's quality improvement and rating system--Keystone Stars, pre-k and full-day kindergarten, as well as family support programs. This year has also seen the creation of a new $75 million state pre-k program, Pre-K Counts, which grew out of a public-private partnership involving the Office of Child Development and several philanthropic partners, such as the Heinz Endowment, Grable Foundation, William Penn Foundation and PNC Bank. …