Invest Early Coalition 2018-19 Advocacy Agenda

The Invest Early Coalition is a group of Arkansans who are committed to working together to improve education, health, and well-being for children during their most formative years (ages 0-5).

Arkansas families are struggling to find affordable, high-quality early childhood education programs for their children, especially during the infant and toddler years. Having poorly compensated educators and under-resourced programs limits the quality of education and number of children and families that our state can serve. It also makes it difficult for our state to recruit new businesses and retain good employees. To improve quality and access, our state must improve compensation and reduce turnover for teachers in Arkansas Better Chance pre-K, Early Head Start and Head Start, and community-based programs through public-private partnerships. We must improve quality standards and data collection for early childhood programs to target resources most effectively. We also must increase investment in other research-based programs for children and families, such as home visiting, access to books in the home, and paid family leave. The Invest Early Coalition’s advocacy agenda for 2018-19 includes the following:

  • RAISING AWARENESS OF THE IMPORTANCE OF EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION: We will launch a public awareness campaign about the importance of quality early learning experiences, especially for infants & toddlers, and how parents and communities can get children ready for success in school.

One of our top priorities is making parents, policymakers, and the general public more aware of the science of brain development and the importance of quality early learning experiences during a child’s earliest years. Each member of the Invest Early Coalition plays an important role in developing and disseminating these messages.

  • PROVIDING QUALITY INCENTIVES: We will advocate for compensation and program incentives so teachers and staff can earn a family-supporting wage and improve outcomes for children.

A 2018 study by UAMS shows what we already know: early childhood educators are woefully underpaid compared to K-12 teachers and other highly-trained professionals, despite having one of the most important roles in our education system and economy. Poor compensation and limited benefits are driving teachers and staff to other fields. Positive, supportive adult-child interactions are the MOST important component of high-quality early learning. That can’t happen if children are subjected to constant turnover.

Early childhood education incentives, like Louisiana’s successful package of tax credits, would fill the gap for flat-funded early childhood programs that has made it impossible to give raises to teachers, by supporting early childhood professionals to build their skills and giving providers the resources to pay wages commensurate with their education levels. Our Coalition is advocating for:

  1. Educator Quality Incentive: Provide a refundable tax credit, adjusted for inflation each year, for early childhood teachers and directors who have earned certificates and credentials and have been employed in a licensed program for at least 6 consecutive months. The specific rate is linked to the educational attainment of the individual and the quality of the program.  In Louisiana, 4,000 teachers/staff received an average tax credit of $2,150 over 2013-2015, with a total cost of $8.1 million.
  2. Early Childhood Education Quality Incentive: Provide a refundable tax credit ranging in amount based on the quality of the program and the number of children served. This incentive goes directly into the program to further improve outcomes. In Louisiana, about 500 providers received an average credit of $9,400 in 2013-2014, with a total cost of $4.5 million.

Like Louisiana, Arkansas already has legislation providing tax credits for eligible families who pay for early childhood education, as well as legislation allowing businesses to receive tax credits for making certain contributions toward improving access to licensed quality programs. However, very few families or businesses are taking advantage of these credits. Our Coalition will propose updates to the language of these statutes and raise awareness of these incentives.

  • DEVELOPING TEACHING EXPERTISE: We will work to secure seed money for a pilot T.E.A.C.H. program.

T.E.A.C.H. (Teacher Education And Compensation Helps) Early Childhood is a proven national program that helps provide a highly-qualified, fairly compensated, and stable workforce. It provides scholarships for educators to earn credentials and skills that research shows are most effective in improving teaching quality. The coalition will seek private-public partnerships and federal Child Care and Development Block Grants to begin this program.

  • IMPROVING ECE DATA AND RESEARCH: We will continue working with researchers, state agencies, and providers to improve early childhood data collection and analysis to help target support and resources most effectively.

Our coalition will bring various stakeholders to the table to help the state increase its capacity for data collection and analysis and get a clearer picture of families’ needs, the quality of individual programs, and long-term child outcomes. Part of this cost may be covered by private-public partnerships.

SECONDARY ECE PRIORITIES:

  • Broadening ABC’s eligibility criteria to include more children and encourage programs to use ABC money to serve infants and toddlers.
  • Reallocating state resources to provide a highly-trained mentor/coach to all licensed programs to support teachers and parents.
  • Providing incentives or requirements for programs to move up to Levels 2 and 3 of the Better Beginnings rating system, and in the long term, expanding the rating system to include Levels 4 and 5 for the highest-quality programs.
  • Ensuring young children receive developmental and mental health screenings and appropriate treatment.
  • Expanding early literacy programs, such as the Dolly Parton Imagination Library.

For more information about the Invest Early Coalition, visit www.aradvocates.org/campaigns/invest-early, or contact Ginny Blankenship at (501) 371-9678, ext. 113; gblankenship@aradvocates.org.    

Click on the links below to learn about the impact the early childhood education tax credits have had in Louisiana.

Giving Credit Where It’s Due: School Readiness Tax Credits Benefit Louisiana Families and Communities  (2016, Louisiana Policy Institute for Children)

Pathways to High-Quality Child Care: The Workforce Investment Credit (Committee for Economic Development, 2017)

Extra Credit: How Louisiana Is Improving Child Care (National Women’s Law Center, 2015)