The blog of the Urban Institute
February 3, 2020

How San Antonio Is Boosting Its Supply of Quality Early Child Care and Education

February 3, 2020

Low-income communities across the country are facing an acute lack of quality, affordable early care and education (ECE) for children. San Antonio’s Eastside is one of those communities, so local organizations came together to address the problem.

In 2012, a consortium of city agencies and social service providers with a history of collaboration formed the Dual Generation partnership, part of the Family-Centered Community Change Initiative (FCCC).

Dual Generation aimed to move the needle on intergenerational poverty in the city’s historically low-income and underserved Eastside through combining parent and child interventions—an initiative based on the growing evidence (PDF) that serving multiple generations within households is more effective at interrupting the cycle of poverty than serving each generation separately. The Urban Institute has been evaluating Dual Generation’s implementation since 2014.

From early in the partnership, Dual Generation partners chose to leverage their resources to increase the supply of quality ECE in the city’s Eastside. Preliminary findings from our evaluation suggest this effort has seen substantial success, and the work in San Antonio can inform other communities’ efforts to increase their supply of quality early care and education.

Promising improvements in San Antonio’s ECE supply

Dual Generation leadership planned and executed a years-long strategy to improve the quality of ECE centers in the partnership’s service footprint. Over four years, Dual Generation funded ongoing coaching to center staff and leadership at three centers in five quality domains—nutrition, parent involvement, curriculum, caregiver-child interactions, and indoor and outdoor activities—that are assessed to earn a Texas Rising Star (TRS) rating, the state’s quality rating and improvement system.

The partnership provided the centers funding to improve their facilities and teaching materials to the standards TRS requires. The partnership also provided funding for classroom teachers to obtain Child Development Associate credentials and other education and training related to early childhood development.

A member of senior leadership at the partnership’s backbone organization with expertise in child development oversaw the effort from its beginning. This included securing buy-in from ECE center leadership, arranging for TRS coaching, and working with service providers inside and outside the Dual Generation partnership to fill gaps in training to help the centers achieve a TRS rating.

After three centers achieved a TRS three-star rating within the first two years of TRS coaching, Dual Generation continued investing in coaching toward further quality improvement. Through this process, the centers strengthened their culture of continuous improvement.

Five years after Dual Generation leadership began developing their model of ECE quality improvement, they successfully pitched it to leading workforce development organizations in San Antonio. These organizations committed to using their resources to expand centers’ quality improvement citywide.

It’s like night and day from when we started with Texas Rising Star.…

[Our Dual Generation leader] helped us to get a lot of equipment, and a lot of toys, and everything else that we were lacking in the classroom.… She also helped us get a lot of multicultural aspects that we added to the classroom that we just didn’t have, a lot of training that we needed.… And then, we just really had to build our teachers up and just, like, give them that confidence that they… were a Texas Rising Star teacher.

—Child development center program manager

Key conditions that contributed to Dual Generation partners’ success

Several conditions contributed to the ECE quality improvements Dual Generation partners achieved:

  • A single senior leader with expertise in child development was a consistent, powerful champion. This leader could leverage seniority and expertise to get ECE center leadership to buy into the effort and pinpoint and address areas where centers needed help.
  • The three centers that achieved a TRS rating had consistent leadership who bought into the quality-improvement effort at the beginning and remained in their positions throughout the work. This continuous center leadership buy-in was critical in sustaining momentum for improvement.
  • Thanks to sustained fundraising success, Dual Generation could provide sustained, substantial financial investment in quality improvement, along with funding for subsidized child care slots at the centers. This was critical for ongoing buy-in from center leadership.
  • The partners could take advantage of San Antonio’s uncommonly partnership-focused social-service environment. This allowed the Dual Generation leader overseeing quality improvement to reach out to service providers throughout the city to help meet the centers’ needs. Dual Generation leadership could also pitch their model to organizations in the city that were in a position to take the quality improvement model to scale.

I think one thing San Antonio has really been known for is we have a very collaborative city. Everything we’ve done, usually you have lots of folks at the table helping to make decisions or moving things.

—Workforce development program leader

Why access to quality ECE is a challenge nationwide

The ECE deficit on San Antonio’s Eastside reflects national trends. Low-income communities throughout the country face a fundamental “trilemma” of supply, quality, and affordability when attempting to provide ECE services that meet the needs of local families. Quality ECE is expensive and may come at the cost of supply, affordability, or both.

Families often face challenges finding quality evening and weekend care options and infant care options because of the increased costs involved in providing these services.

This problem is exacerbated in low-income communities because ECE providers in these communities can’t rely on private-paying parents to create a floor of sufficient funding to support an adequate supply of quality services. As a result, the supply, quality, and affordability of ECE in these communities largely depend on nonparent resources, such as government or philanthropic funding, which are usually insufficient and unstable.

There is increasing recognition that addressing the inadequate supply of affordable, quality ECE should be a national priority. This is reflected in the increased federal funding (PDF) for supports for provider quality and for child care subsidies in recent years. Increased attention to the issue comes as evidence mounts that providing quality ECE is one of the most effective strategies for supporting young children’s healthy development.

Challenges in providing adequate supply of quality, affordable ECE to support family success

Dual Generation partners’ model is promising for addressing ECE quality in low-income areas, but there are still too few quality providers on the Eastside to support parents’ needs as they pursue success through education, training, and work. Like in other places, quality evening and weekend care is particularly scare, which keeps parents from opportunities during these times.

Sustaining affordability at the centers that improved quality with the help of Dual Generation partners will remain an ongoing challenge given the costs of quality ECE and the inability of many local families to afford the market rate. And to maintain quality, centers will need to consistently raise enough money to retain highly credentialed staff, which has been a challenge.

As Dual Generation’s quality-improvement model scales up, it will be critical for organizations leading the charge to focus on maintaining affordability in tandem with quality improvement to ensure residents can take advantage of these services.

Photo by Maskot via Getty Images.

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