Access to affordable child care and education are two social determinants of health that state leaders are working to address in Virginia. Today and tomorrow, legislators from the House Committee on Education and Senate Committee on Education and Health are discussing possible solutions at the 2021 Virginia Education Summit, which is hosted by the Hunt Institute at Old Dominion University.
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In the opening panel, “Early Childhood | Improving Outcomes for Virginia’s Youngest Children, experts identified a child care and education dilemma in the commonwealth. The pandemic has taken a severe toll on child learning. According to Lisa Howard, president and CEO of E3: Elevate Early Education, 52% of children in the state are entering kindergarten with underdeveloped skills in math, literature, social skills, or self-regulation.
Jenna Conway, chief school readiness officer at the Virginia Department of Education, says one possible solution is to offer different ways children can experience early education and childcare.
The department has worked to expand the Virginia Preschool Initiative as well as a mixed-delivery program, which offers a preschool experience in a private setting or more convenient location. Conway said:
“We have tried to be extremely thoughtful over the last four years around how to grow in a way that matches families’ preferences, addresses groups that have typically had trouble accessing preschool, and assuring that level of quality.”
Lower compensation for childcare providers and educators contributes to high turnover rates, according to the panelists. They described common instances during the pandemic where child care providers often left their jobs to work at a retail store or restaurant for a higher income.
Lack of child care also affects Virginias attempt to return to work after the pandemic, according to Conway.
“We hear from families now that they want to return to work. They’re so excited schools are back in-person, but they can’t find childcare. So, if we want a full economic recovery in the Commonwealth from the pandemic, we have to address and support the recovery of the childcare sector.”
One possible workforce solution, a direct-to-educator incentive, is already in place and looking to expand. Currently, the department provides educators with an annual $1500 increase, or 75 cents per hour, which Conway says reduced turnover rates from 25% to 13%. The department is now looking to expand incentive to $2000 a year.
Panelists agreed though, that more long-term solutions are needed in the child care and education industry. Other solutions discussed in the panel included directing more federal and state funds into childcare subsidy programs, implementing a performance-based payment model, and reevaluating credentials for childcare workers.