In the midst of a global pandemic, rising unemployment and economic instability, it is ongoing racial injustice that has propelled the civil unrest we have all witnessed over the past few weeks. “The painful and frustrating reality is that all the children are not well. In too many instances, Black children are not well.” The next Black child to die due to the color of their skin could easily be one of the children whom we at ICS are committed to serving and advocating on behalf of today.
The final sessions of the Third Annual Conference of the Early Childhood Social Impact Performance Advisors focused on provisions that could be made in federal law and in developing Pay for Success projects to enable better services for young children.
Two experts on PFS-related activity in Washington gave the audience an in-depth update on federal legislation and programs that can support PFS programs.
The first place PFS emerged in federal policy was through the Workforce Innovation Fund through the U.S. Department of Labor. About $26.3 million was divided among different entities. The Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Justice are jointly using PFS to expand permanent housing for people transitioning out of incarceration, said Nicole Truhe, the director of government affairs for America Forward, a coalition of public and private supporters of social innovation.
Afterwards, the Social Innovation Fund was given around $14 million to support PFS projects across the country, and has used a significant portion of that to support projects to improve outcomes for young children, said Bryan Boroughs, the general counsel and director of legislative affairs for ICS. ICS is a grantee of the Social Innovation Fund, as are several of America Forward’s member organizations.
A longer-term goal, Truhe said, is to show PFS’ value so that it can be included in formula funding streams within a variety of federal agencies. PFS first became an entitlement-related investment in the federal budget through the new Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. State governments can use 15 percent of funds under the law for various needs—now including PFS projects. Those funds could pay for program evaluations, technical assistance, and technology and data systems, Truhe said, though the implementing regulations will need to be enacted first.
High-quality early childhood programs are critical to a strong workforce in the short-term because they can provide excellent family supports for working parents. In the long-term, quality early care and education prepares young children for school so that they can succeed in the workforce in the future, said Boroughs.
The new main federal education law, currently known as the Every Student Succeeds Act—which replaces the No Child Left Behind Act—includes for the first time a federal definition of PFS, Truhe said. It also includes descriptions of feasibility studies and evaluations and flexibility within billions of Title I funds that can allow for some PFS program support. Funding under Title IV of the law for safe and healthy schools may be used to develop school-community partnerships for behavioral health or other needs that affect children beyond the school walls, she said. Legislative advocates are working with federal officials as they hammer out regulations under the new law, she said.
Unfortunately, PFS is not included in ESSA for early childhood programs, Boroughs said. But other pools of federal funds are developing. The most hopeful sign is that the House passed a bill on June 21 that would provide at least $100 million toward PFS programs, with half that amount specifically for programs that impact children. The details on the proposed Social Impact Partnerships to Pay for Results Act (SIPPRA) can be found here.
A panel featuring ICS’s own Megan Carolan looked at using PFS to serve the youngest children and those in special education.
Janice M. Gruendel of the Harvard Center on the Developing Child’s Frontiers of Innovation Initiative, discussed the latest research in early childhood learning showing the impacts of toxic stress on brain development. PFS programs shouldn’t focus on one slice of early childhood services, but should build a range of services that serve needy parents even before a child’s birth through developmental screening later in childhood. “Support the whole family in whatever way you can,” she said.
Jennifer Tschantz of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs told a breakout session audience of improving federal data on outcomes for children with disabilities that may be useful in evaluating PFS programs. The PFS strategy could lead to more early screening of children so they can get the services they need, and expand inclusion in preschool classes for students with disabilities.
Colorado State Sen. Mike Johnston, a leading advocate for PFS and early childhood in the state, told a moving story about his children’s love for a book about Helen Keller. He’s the father of twin 8 year olds and a 4-year-old daughter.
His youngest child responded to hearing a line in the book about Keller being “deaf, blind and dumb,” by saying: “Daddy, Helen Keller wasn’t dumb.” Indeed she wasn’t, but she had lost the ability to speak, he said. “We are working to support kids all across the country that … have lost their voice,” the senator continued. “Give them their voice back.”
“What can we do to find the resources to the kids who need them?” he implored.
Following Sen. Johnston, ReadyNation co-founder of Robert Dugger closed the conference by calling on advocates to help “millions of kids have their voice.”
“We have accomplished a lot, but clearly … We’ve got a whole lot more to accomplish,” he said.
Alan Richard is a veteran national education writer, formerly of Education Week, the Southern Regional Education Board and others. He contributes to the Hechinger Report and is the board chairman of the nonprofit Rural School and Community Trust. Follow him on Twitter: @educationalan.