Visit to Educare New Orleans Underscores Importance of Early Childhood Investment
As part of The Hunt Institute’s focus on early childhood policy, we were honored to take a group of key policymakers and state leaders from our partner states and Hunt-Kean Leadership Fellows program to Educare New Orleans on June 24.
Established seven years ago as a central part of the community redevelopment effort after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, Educare New Orleans serves nearly 170 infants, toddlers, and preschoolers and their families with year-round services 10 hours a day, five days a week. Educare is a national model that is based on four core features: data utilization, embedded professional development, high-quality teaching practices, and intensive family engagement.
One of my favorite parts of the work we get to do at The Institute is providing policymakers the opportunity to meet with educators, parents, and community members who are working in and supporting exceptional education programs. Creating space for policymakers to see an innovative model in action, such as Educare, which spurs their thinking about how policies can be crafted to replicate these opportunities in their home states is extremely rewarding.
In Educare schools, the students aren’t the only ones learning. As we visited each room, we saw multiple teachers in the classrooms – a lead teacher who is responsible for the instruction and a master teacher who supports and enhances the content and student engagement in the classroom. In one class, a third teacher was taking anecdotal notes on students’ reactions while the lead teacher read aloud. This intensive instruction with embedded professional development grounded in data is just one component of why Educare schools have become a national model for serving young children and families.
Of course, programs of this quality don’t occur spontaneously. Multiple partners spent years planning, collaborating, and strategizing before opening the doors of Educare New Orleans; sustainability efforts also require the continued engagement of a diverse group of leaders from across sectors. The Hunt Institute’s Senior Advisor of Early Childhood Rachel Schumacher led a conversation about blending and braiding funding to start and sustain Educares that included Gerry Barousse, Jr., Chairman, Bayou District Foundation; Kristin Bernhard, Senior Vice President of Advocacy and Policy, The Ounce of Prevention Fund; and Dr. Keith Liederman, CEO, Kingsley House.
Mr. Barousse and Dr. Liederman described how the fluctuation of public funding can be challenging. Educare New Orleans spends about $18,700 per child per year, which is why it’s so important to understand the federal, state, and local funding structures as well as opportunities to engage partners from the business and philanthropic communities. Compared to Louisiana’s $11,038 that they spent per child in the K-12 system, this could seem steep. However, James Heckman’s research demonstrates that high-quality birth-to-five programs, like Educare, can deliver a 13 percent per year return on investment.
For Educare, the most important partners are the families. As such, family engagement is encouraged from each adult who is in a child’s life. We heard from two parents, Rayshad and Saja, who have children in the school, and the school’s family support manager, Thomas Whitfield. In addition to reading at home and meeting with teachers, families are also invited to participate in training programs that help them earn certificates. Regardless of whether the family is proactive or reluctant about engaging, Educare strives to meet families where they are and find what works best for them.
Ahead of our visit to Educare New Orleans, The Institute hosted a dinner discussion with Dr. Rhea Williams-Bishop, Director of Mississippi and New Orleans Programs at the WK Kellogg Foundation. Dr. Williams-Bishop described how New Orleans is working to improve the support of early education through bipartisan initiatives.
High-quality early childhood education is not a privilege for just a few. It’s a right for all families and one that our states must continue to advance; it’s not just an investment in education, it’s an investment in health, criminal justices, and the workforce.
For more information, including resources and action steps, read our Key Takeaways, which was provided to all participants shortly after their visit.
Thank you to our Fellows, legislators and state leaders who joined us at Educare New Orleans – and a very special thank you to the school’s staff and community leaders for opening their doors and showing us why Educare New Orleans is so special.
Dr. Javaid Siddiqi
President & CEO
The Hunt Institute