Pennsylvania Affiliates Collaborate to Increase Statewide Quality
Over the past 10 years Pennsylvania has made great strides in providing quality early learning opportunities for its youngest children. In 2000 Pennsylvania was one of only nine states not offering publicly funded prekindergarten programming. Today Pennsylvania offers model programming recognized across the country, including the quality rating and improvement system (QRIS), Keystone STARS, the prekindergarten program, Pre-K Counts, and a state supplement to Head Start.
Pennsylvania’s Keystone STARS encourages and supports early learning programs to meet specific, evidence-based performance standards. Keystone STARS standards address staff qualifications, administrative practices, and the classroom environment, using an environmental rating scale to assign a score that is correlated to a STAR rating. We know from NAEYC’s accreditation standards and national studies that quality is dependent on staff qualifications. Keystone STARS has enhanced quality through the implementation of the Pennsylvania Keys to Quality Early Learning Career Lattice, which requires staff to attend ongoing state-approved professional development and complete college-credentialed coursework. Pre-K Counts guidelines require a certified teacher in all of its preschool classrooms. Pennsylvania also supports parent education resources and increases public awareness about the importance of quality early learning experiences. In addition, those programs receiving Pennsylvania’s Head Start state supplemental funding must meet federal Head Start standards, including staff qualifications. For example, at least 50 percent of teachers must have a baccalaureate or advanced degree in early childhood education or coursework equivalent to a major in early childhood education.
These statewide efforts have involved many individuals and organizations both inside and outside state government. The state’s three largest AEYC organizations—Pennsylvania AEYC, Pittsburgh AEYC, and Delaware Valley AEYC—continue to play a significant role in the quality of Pennsylvania’s early care and education.
The Pennsylvania Association for the Education of Young Children (PennAEYC) was formed in 1983 and incorporated in 1995 as the state Affiliate of NAEYC, representing all NAEYC members living in the state. PennAEYC currently represents a membership of more than 5,000 early childhood educators and supporters. In recent years, PennAEYC has increased its capacity to contribute significantly to the state’s quality improvement efforts by transitioning from volunteer to paid staff leadership.
The Pittsburgh Association for the Education of Young Children (PAEYC) was formed in 1963 and incorporated as an Affiliate of NAEYC in 1980. The Delaware Valley Association for the Education of Young Children (DVAEYC) was incorporated in 1967 to serve the Greater Philadelphia region. Both organizations hold contracts to provide professional development services for programs participating in Keystone STARS and support early childhood professionals in the community in other important ways. With staffed offices in Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, and Philadelphia, the AEYC community is well positioned to engage members in a robust advocacy campaign to expand public investments in early learning programs. For several years, the Affiliates have led a mobilizing effort that culminates in an annual advocacy event that draws over 500 early childhood professionals to the state capital during budget negotiations. These events help build local leaders and early childhood advocates, educate elected officials, and raise the general public’s awareness about the importance of quality early learning opportunities. However, despite the progress of the past decade, there is still much work to be done.
Although nearly 5,000 early learning providers participate in Keystone STARS, less than 20 percent are meeting STAR 3 or 4—the highest levels of quality defined by Keystone STARS. Pre-K Counts serves the most vulnerable children, but only reaches a fraction of those eligible in Pennsylvania. According to the Office of Child Development and Early Learning’s 2011–2012 progress update, Pre-K Counts served only 4 percent of eligible children from families with low income. In addition, through the AEYC’s long-standing work in professional development, technical assistance, and quality improvement, it is becoming clear that even with state funding, the true cost of providing the highest level quality is exceeding what revenue providers generate.
For example, in addition to the challenge of serving more children with high-quality programs, there remains a pressing need for funding to support the full cost of quality. In 2008–2009, PAEYC commissioned a financing study conducted by Anne Mitchell, president of Early Childhood Policy Research and cofounder of the Alliance for Early Childhood Finance, a learning community on finance reform and system-building for early care and education. The results revealed that programs have significant difficulty financing high-quality programming unless they access multiple funding streams, are fully enrolled, and collect all revenue. The challenge of operating a child care program that meets the Keystone STARS standards can be daunting, particularly for small centers where the director is responsible for a myriad of educational and business functions. One of the most promising strategies to address this challenge is shared services. ... continue to read
Jodi Askins, MS, is the executive director of the Pennsylvania Association for the Education of Young Children (PennAEYC) in Harrisburg. She serves as a member of the Governor’s Early Learning Council and on several state and local advisory committees. email@example.com
Sharon Easterling is the executive director of the Delaware Valley AEYC (DVAEYC). She leads a staff of 25 who provide professional development, quality improvement, and leadership development/advocacy initiatives for the early childhood community in the Greater Philadelphia area. Sharon@dvaeyc.org
Michelle Figlar is the executive director of the Pittsburgh Association for the Education of Young Children (PAEYC), serving a 10-county region in southwestern Pennsylvania. Since joining PAEYC, she has worked to increase membership, create professional development programs, and develop a coordinated plan for AEYC advocacy efforts. firstname.lastname@example.org