Early learning is critical for success later in life.
Despite this acknowledgment by policymakers and society for decades, the reality is that not all children have the same access to opportunities to learn and thrive in their early years.
Many families rely on public funding to access high-quality preschool, enrolling their children in programs like Head Start and school-based pre-K. However, these programs are not able to accommodate all eligible children due to constraints such as a lack of sufficient schedules, classroom space, teacher shortages, funding, and programming needs.
In recent years, states and local governments nationwide have begun developing innovative preschool delivery models to overcome these barriers and to better leverage limited resources. Several states have adopted mixed delivery systems.
Mixed delivery systems serve publicly-funded childcare slots in both public schools and private, community-based settings. This includes child care centers, family child care programs, Head Start programs, and public schools.
Why mixed delivery?
Many families find the public school-day hours limited, and their locations inconvenient. Many families also prefer the smaller, more specialized settings and unique curriculums community-based centers can offer.
Mixed delivery allows families to consider publicly-funded settings that provide year-round care, flexible hours, and convenient locations that align with standard as well as nonstandard or fluctuating work schedules. Further, families have access to community-based settings that are responsive to their preferences around what type of environment (setting, curriculum, ratios) they need for their children to thrive.
What happens when preschool services are delivered without mixed delivery
Prepared in collaboration with the Early Care & Education Consortium.
States and local governments nationwide are piloting and scaling universal and expanded preschool delivery models. New York City and Oklahoma launched preschool models without mixed delivery, solely providing care in public schools.
New York City
In 2014, the city expanded its universal preschool program to include 4-year-olds and, like TK in California, ran them primarily through public schools. Within five years, the city saw a 15 to 20 percent reduction in the availability of infant and toddler care, primarily impacting low-income areas. Erosion in the quality of the remaining programs ensued, as providers were forced to reduce staff and cut costs. All this furthered the racial divide in accessing quality preschool, as concluded in a new study by researchers at UC, Berkeley. They are now backtracking and opening the program up to all providers, a true mixed delivery system, to combat the negative effects they’ve seen.
Oklahoma's preschool program is run out of its public school system. Since 2012, the number of centers and homes providing child care in Oklahoma dropped 23%, from 4,200 to about 3,200. During the same period, the number of child care slots fell 11%. Licensed child care capacity declined in the state to 121,000 from 135,500. Overall, the cost of care in Oklahoma increased 33% from 2008 to 2018, with spikes of up to 55% for infants and toddlers.
Mixed delivery models that work
Many states and local governments have or will launch mixed delivery models of preschool, and they work for children, families, and providers.
Denver & Colorado
The Denver Preschool Program (DPP) uses its Child Care Resource & Referral (CCR&R) system to administer its UPK program. This system puts the needs of families first by enabling families who qualify to choose from a list of qualified providers, including public schools, home-based programs, and private centers. Results show that more DPP children than expected scored “ready for school” compared to their national peers in the spring before their kindergarten year regardless of their native language or economic background.
Colorado just passed legislation to create a new Department of Early Childhood that will be responsible for implementing a universal pre-kindergarten program that will be open to all types of providers, including the public schools.
The state of Georgia created an entire Department of Early Care and Learning (DECAL) that is able to facilitate a mixed delivery preschool system that includes community-based providers and the public school system while taking into account the needs of children birth through five. Since its implementation, Children who attended Georgia's Pre-K made significant gains in the areas of language/literacy skills, math skills, self-knowledge, and social skills. Children's growth on most of these measures, which were norm-referenced, indicated that they progressed at a greater rate than would be expected for normal developmental growth. In addition, children who were Spanish-speaking dual language learners showed growth on all skills in English and most skills in Spanish. From pre-k through kindergarten, children in the dual language learners subsample exhibited significant gains on all English measures of language/literacy skills, math skills, and self-knowledge.
State-funded preschool has been rolling out across the Garden State for two decades. Today, the Abbott Preschool Program, a mixed-delivery system serving over 50,000 3- and 4-year olds, stands as a path-breaking platform for the delivery of early education, proven effective in reducing pre-kindergarten learning gaps for children in high-poverty, racially isolated communities.
Multnomah County, Oregon:
Experts are closely following the recently approved Universal Preschool plan in Multnomah County, Oregon, where voters approved the Preschool for All plan to provide access to voluntary, tuition-free preschool for three- and four-year-olds starting in September 2022. Families will be able to sign up for part-day or full-day options, on the academic calendar or year-round, and children will be able to attend in-home settings, child-care centers, and public schools.
In 2014, the Vermont Legislature passed Act 166, providing state-funded, universal access to prekindergarten for 3-year-olds, 4-year-olds, and 5-year-olds through a mixed-delivery system of public and private providers at no cost to families. Vermont’s universal pre-K act gives all three-, four-, and five-year-old children in the state the right to attend free, publicly funded pre-K.
The state uses a mixed-delivery method and since the act was signed into law, access to early learning has expanded. According to Vermont’s profile in the National Institute for Early Education (NIEER) State of Preschool Yearbook, from 2014 to 2018, the number of three-year-olds in publicly funded programs grew from 39% to 62%, while the number of four-year-olds in publicly funded programs grew from 57% to 76%.
Where does this leave California?
California has long touted the merits of mixed delivery systems in its early education research, yet the state has made limited progress in implementing it. The Governor's Master Plan for Early Learning and Care, released in December 2020, states the goal to:
Ensure that all families can easily identify and access a variety of quality early learning and care choices that ft the diverse needs of their children, their financial resources, and workday and nonstandard schedules.
And the understanding that:
Equitable access to early learning and care depends upon families having a choice of program settings near their homes or work. Ensuring such access requires not just having the funds to finance the care, but also having the facilities to deliver it.
In the goal to "Phase-in Universal Preschool for all four-year-olds, starting with the highest-need areas", the plan suggests lawmakers and education leaders...
...encourage and support community-based preschool programs that meet state requirements to offer state-funded preschool options and create incentives and support for local education agencies to transition self-contained preschool classrooms to inclusive, universal program
And lastly, the plan's goal to "Establish a System of Shared Services Networks to Support Sustainability" states:
In states across the nation, systems of Shared Services Alliances—community-based partnerships of small early learning and care businesses working together to share costs and deliver services more efficiently and effectively—are having a game-changing impact on the sector
The budget, due to be signed by the Governor in the coming days, promotes funding a Universal Transitional Kindergarten program as part of a mixed delivery system for early education. We applaud California legislators for including mixed delivery in the budget. Now we need to be clear about what mixed delivery is and what it is not.
What is mixed delivery and what is it not
Mixed delivery IS:
- Public and private programs servicing children in their programs with public funding.
- Giving families a choice of education options, clearly laying out program, schedule, and any related fees, so they can choose the best program for their children.
- Built around the child and family (not the program type or funding stream) to provide consistency of program, location, and educators.
Mixed delivery IS NOT:
- Excluding children from care types due to eligibility for programs.
- Giving children limited hours in one program and transporting them to another. Four-year-olds don't belong on buses and low-income families cannot afford to transport their children in the middle of the day.
Building mixed delivery begins now
The work to define and build a mixed delivery system that opens early education for California children across all program types begins now. This will take all stakeholders (families, providers, and agencies) working in unison to build models, change systems, and modify legislation to provide more high-quality early education services to the children that need them most.
A note of thanks
The inclusion of mixed delivery language in the budget is attributable to the many months of early education and parent advocacy groups educating lawmakers on the importance of mixed delivery for California early learners.
We applaud all the advocacy groups, organizations, and individuals who have written letters, placed calls, visited legislators, and showed just how important mixed delivery is for California children. Thank you to the Early Care & Education Consortium, Parent Voices, Child Care Law Center, California Child Care Resource & Referral Network, Head Start California, Child Care Resource Center, California Alternative Payment Program Association, EveryChild California, Coalition for Mixed Delivery, and the many other advocacy groups for your incredible efforts.
This effort is not over, it has just begun.