Feb. 21, 2023
In late January, the federal Administration for Children and Families (ACF) announced the award of nearly $300 million to 42 states through the Preschool Development Grant Birth through Five (PDG B-5) initiative. The Early Childhood Data Collaborative (ECDC) at Child Trends is thrilled to add our voices of congratulations to those states! The federal investment of PDGs has the transformative power to create positive change in ECE systems, including making systems more equitable. In this blog, we share lessons for state leaders on specific populations' ECE needs, ways data can be a critical investment in ECE families and the workforce, and details on an upcoming framework that can guide equity efforts.
In this latest round of funding, states receiving PDG funds have the opportunity to focus on the systems that affect children, families, and the workforce. In the words of ACF, PDGs are a way to promote and strengthen equity efforts in existing early childhood systems and “invest in holistic early childhood systems that meet the unique needs of families where they are.” As state leaders implement their plans for the new PDG funds, we urge them to think of data as a critical investment in their equity efforts. Collecting and using data will help leaders identify and understand persistent inequities. Data can inform planning around equity efforts and the continuous improvement of related policies and practices.
A key part of the larger birth-to-five ECE system is publicly available pre-kindergarten programs that serve three- and four-year-old children. Pre-K has incredible potential, with a rich research base supporting the fact that high-quality pre-K programs can play a key role in strengthening children’s early and later learning and development. When there is greater access to high-quality pre-K experiences, all children, families, and the pre-K workforce benefit. However, many groups of children and families lack access to such programs. In a recent brief, Pre-K Data on Children, Families, and Workforce Members from Focal Populations Can Help Decision Makers Create More Equitable Systems, we walk through the academic literature on six populations that experience bias and discrimination based on race and ethnicity, language, income, disability status, and/or immigration status. The brief describes the circumstances faced by a number of different families and ECE workforce members, including:
- Families experiencing poverty: Based on the Supplemental Poverty Measure, around 1 in 10 children are experiencing poverty, many of whom lack access to high-quality programs. Despite barriers to engagement (e.g., transportation, program hours), pre-K programs can find ways to partner with families experiencing poverty and offer additional supports for children's learning.
- Black, Hispanic/Latino, and Indigenous families: A number of practices and policies exclude or result in biased treatment on the basis of race/ethnicity, such as greater likelihood of suspension of Black children compared to White children for similar behaviors, and the overall high rates of exclusionary discipline for Black and American Indian or Alaska Native children.
- Families of children with disabilities or developmental delays: Children with disabilities accounted for just under a quarter (22.7%) of pre-K enrollment in 2017-2018 and are often placed in settings that segregate them from their peers, which can delay or prevent identification of a disability, reduce access to services, or prevent children with and without disabilities from experiencing the benefit of learning together.
- Children in immigrant families: Nearly 25 percent of children under age five have a parent who is an immigrant. Immigrant families may face barriers accessing pre-K programs including fears around immigration policies and trouble navigating new systems and cultures where their own culture may not be valued or welcomed.
- Families with multilingual learners: Multilingual learners make up about 23 percent of the pre-K population. Being multilingual brings a variety of benefits to children, but pre-K programs may not have the resources to provide adequate supports to children or their parents that both maintain children’s home languages and foster their overall English language development.
- Pre-K workforce members: Many workforce members hold the same identities and experiences as described above. As such, they face similar inequities. For example, inequities around adequate compensation, workforce development, and workforce supports are more pronounced for members of the pre-K workforce who are Black, Latino, and from immigrant backgrounds.
There are also many children, families, and members of the workforce who have identities in more than one of the groups above that can compound challenges and bring unique strengths, traditions, and resilience.
The critical barriers that these groups face underscore the need to better understand their experiences and collect consistent, national data to comprehensively address inequities within the pre-K system. Although pre-K programs and systems currently gather a lot of data, it can be siloed in different programs or by different funding streams. To help address this challenge, we are currently developing a Pre-K Data Equity Framework that will be launched in fall 2023, designed to help federal, state, territory, Tribal, and local leaders:
- Answer key questions about their pre-K systems, and specifically about populations that have been marginalized by racism and systemic inequities;
- Offer guidance on data needed to understand and address issues related to equity in pre-K;
- Assess data gaps and integration needs to support the use of pre-K data; and
- Inform action steps for creating a more equitable pre-K system based on the data they collect and the questions they are answering.
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