Missouri’s Evolving Early Learning Landscape

It started with a ban. From 2012-2016, Missouri was the only state in the country to ban quality rating systems for early childhood providers. The ban prevented Missouri from competing for federal preschool funding, costing our state’s children millions in investments. After the state Legislature lifted the ban, it seems the fog is lifting too, and Missouri is finally righting the course in early childhood policy. 

The tireless work of advocates is translating into success. After two tumultuous budget years, Missouri is beginning year two of a three-year pilot project, which will lay the groundwork for a statewide quality improvement system. In 2019, state leaders prioritized early childhood safety and quality of care in ways that will change the face of Missouri’s early childhood system. We are thrilled that federal policymakers, Governor Parson and the state Legislature helped improve the state’s early childhood system in the following ways:

Child Care Safety: After 10+ years, policymakers imposed limits on the number of related children allowed in unlicensed, in-home child care settings (previously unlimited). The legislation increases criminal penalties and creates a new civil penalty to further enforce the regulations.

Additionally, after multiple tragedies in child care settings, Governor Parson convened a Child Care Working Group, which released recommendations on June 1.The working group’s suggested reforms and updates to child care regulations will require both administrative and statutory changes.

Home Visiting: Missouri is the birthplace of Parents as Teachers and the organization’s program is available in each of the 500+ school districts in the state. The Governor and legislature increased investments in the PAT program by $3 million, which will serve more than 1,500 high-need families. Additionally, the new budget includes $3 million to expand access to home visiting programs in underserved areas, helping keep children safe and united with their families. 

Quality Assurance Report: Legislators provided $260,000 in additional funding to implement the Quality Assurance Report (QAR) pilot project. This is a big step toward ensuring parents and children have access to quality early learning programs across the state.

Preschool Development Grant: After removing the QRIS ban, Missouri could better compete for federal funding. Missouri received a $6.5 million Preschool Development Grant to accomplish systems building activities such as a needs assessment and updating our Early Childhood Strategic Plan. The plan will guide leaders and advocates in implementing short- and long-term solutions to support the early childhood system. 

Child Care Subsidies: With additional federal CCDBG funding, Missouri will utilize 2018 child care market data to simplify its rate structure and increase reimbursement rates. The state will invest $26 million to help address the discrepancy between state and private payments. More than 30,000 children have access to child care because of this subsidy. Ensuring competitive reimbursements helps address workforce and access issues.

What’s next? The National Governor’s Association awarded a grant to Governor Parson’s office to develop early learning policy. We are excited about what may result with state leaders engaging on this issue, but we are cognizant of the challenges that come with implementing new ideas. Advocates need to continue articulating the importance of sustained and expanded investment in supporting our children. While we recognize the hard work ahead, we are happy to see the evolution of early learning in Missouri.   

Craig Stevenson, Director of Policy & Advocacy, Kids Win Missouri

August 8, 2019