ECA Blog

Investing In Early Childhood Education

Should business leaders care about early childhood education? Madeleine Baker, CEO of Early Childhood Alliance for more than a decade, advocates for quality early childhood education not only for children’s and families’ benefit, but also for the short-term and long-term impact that it has across the business community. As a former human resources manager, Madeleine knows first-hand the direct benefits for employers:

  • With the majority of parents working, the availability, accessibility, and affordability of quality local child care is a significant draw for employees who have young children.
  • Studies show that child care issues are problematic for families. When parents have quality, reliable care for their children, employers experience reduced absenteeism and turnover, and increased productivity.
  • The availability of quality early childhood care leads to greater availability of working adults and increased opportunity for advanced education.

With that said, there are even more benefits for community investment in early childhood education that are long-term.  Children learn from birth. In fact, the foundation for lifelong learning capacity is established during a child’s earliest years, from 0 to 5. Those early learning experiences set the stage for school readiness and beyond… into the workforce.

In 2014 Indiana spent nearly $22 million on 4,500 children repeating kindergarten because those children started their school experience unprepared. Chances are, as studies indicate, that those children are not reading at grade level by third grade and many will never catch up in later years. Remediation for those children costs money, taxpayer money, and in the long run, the lack of quality education and learning will limit economic growth.

The need for investment in the early years is real. One in four children in northeast Indiana live in poverty and are most at risk of entering their school years unprepared to learn. Quality learning experiences need to be available, accessible and affordable for all children.

An important move to improve quality of early education in Indiana was the adoption of a quality rating and improvement system statewide several years ago. Paths to QUALITYTM  is that system, with voluntary participation and four-levels of quality. Developed in Fort Wayne and first implemented by Early Childhood Alliance, it is a tool for parents who are looking for early care and education programs. Parents can now identify not only programs that participate in Paths to QUALITY but what level of quality each has achieved. It also gives child care providers a framework for improving their programs to Level 4, the highest level, which includes national accreditation.

Employers can help their workforce achieve the highest levels of productivity and economic growth, both now and in years to come,  by investing in quality early childhood education. And some of the first steps are easy to do, such as making sure employees get information on Paths to QUALITY; putting a FREE Child Care Search button on their websites and internal communications; subsidizing child care as an employee benefit; and supporting family-friendly policies in the workplace.

Advocating for quality early care and education is important for the future of so many young children, but also for the business community moving forward. Everyone will benefit.

An Investment in Kids – and Our Future!

From Our Executive Director


ECA helps to start children on path to education success

Child care. Learning center. Preschool. Are they the same? High-quality programs for young children encompass all these things: care, learning and school preparation.

Early Childhood Alliance’s two learning centers in Fort Wayne include the educational component of preschool while providing the extended hours of child care. In fact, learning begins at birth, which means infants as well as preschoolers in a quality program are developing skills that help prepare them for kindergarten and beyond from the very beginning.

That’s good news for parents who wonder whether they need to move their children from one program to another for the education aspect. The answer is no – early learning is built in to high-quality programs.

How can parents know whether a program provides quality care and education? Paths to Quality is Indiana’s quality rating and improvement system, developed right here in Allen County. It rates child care programs on four levels based on a program’s quality, from the basic health and safety requirements of Level 1 to the planned curriculum and national accreditation of Level 4. Enrollment in Paths to Quality is voluntary, so programs that choose not to enroll only need to meet minimum state standards to operate. ECA’s Centers are Level 4, meaning they have achieved the highest level of standards in the industry, including learning activities, advanced staff credentials, a planned curriculum and national accreditation.

What does quality care and education cost? According to the 2014 Cost of Child Care Report from Child Care Aware, the average annual cost for infant care in Indiana was $6,000 to $8,000 in child care centers or family child care homes; $5,000 to $6,500 for a 4-year-old.

As with any type of service, cost can increase with quality. But ECA, along with other area programs, offers various types of tuition assistance – a sliding fee scale, vouchers, scholarships – to help parents access quality, affordable care and education. And that is where community support comes in. Organizations and individuals help ECA raise the 40 percent of its operating expenses needed beyond grants, revenue and government-based income. Collaborations with United Ways, other partner agencies and non-profits, and individuals and businesses across ECA’s 10-county service area help ECA provide a variety of programs and services for families, early education providers and the community.

One example of collaboration addresses spaces for Fort Wayne’s Rescue Mission families in our Downtown Center, a collaboration established several years ago based on that organization’s request. ECA’s outreach is not limited to our own two Learning Centers, however. ECA is this region’s Child Care Resource and Referral agency, one of nine such agencies in the state. Through the agency, ECA provides free child care search assistance plus training and mentoring of other early education providers and programs. We also offer family support programs.

Along with the question of initial cost to families, we need to ask about the cost to children, families and the community if children don’t experience quality care and education during early childhood. Research shows that every $1 spent in early education saves taxpayers $7 to $10 in the areas of remediation, financial assistance and law enforcement. Can we afford not to invest in early care and education? Whatever we call it – child care, early learning or preschool – early childhood education is key to a child’s future and the future of communities throughout Indiana.

Madeleine Baker is executive director of the Early Childhood Alliance. She wrote this for The Journal Gazette.  It was published as an editorial on January 4, 2015.