In January, Delaware Governor John Carney announced plans for the state to dramatically ramp up support for early care and education.
Plans include increasing rates for the state subsidy known as Purchase of Care and to expanding eligibility for the program (the funding for which comes almost equally from federal and state sources). The state will also double the funds for the state pre-k program (known as the Early Childhood Assistance Program) and allocate funds to lower preschool special education student-teacher ratios.
Governor Carney underscored the return on these investments in his remarks about the proposed budget, saying, “If you can’t read proficiently at third grade, what’s going to happen the rest of your life? You’re going to struggle.”
An $8 million federal Preschool Development Grant was also announced earlier this year.
Spurred by consequences of the pandemic as well as an increasingly vocal and well-organized advocacy community, these changes bring Delaware in line with federal recommendations, enable child care providers to compete for talent, and ensure wider access to care for low-income families. Madeleine Bayard, senior vice president of Rodel, a nonprofit focused on public education in Delaware, explains the momentum this way: “We have more champions and a bigger tent than ever.”
Among other factors, Bayard credits the strategic insights and content knowledge provided by partners of the Alliance for Early Success, including the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) and National Women’s Law Center (NWLC). This technical assistance takes many forms, and Bayard and her team seize upon all they can get. “We’ve reached out through the Alliance to at least six national partners in the past few years,” she says.
Rodel relies on the Alliance to get rapid responses from experts they wouldn’t otherwise have access to as well as for help with longer collaborative projects, including a survey of more than 300 Delaware parents and caregivers that showed child care expenses are holding 81% of families back from improving their situation in at least one way.
“Child care is insanely expensive,” one parent responded. “I pay $1,000 more a month than my mortgage for child care.”
Skyrocketing care costs prevent parents from making choices like taking a job, increasing hours at work, going back to school, and buying a home. When the business community hears about employers who would like to expand their business but can’t because they can’t find the people, they start taking notice like never before. The State Chamber of Commerce and the largest Rotary Club in Delaware have been receptive to Rodel’s research and are collecting input from their members, hosting meetings where parents and providers speak, speaking up at hearings, and producing documents with shared messages.
Bayard says Rodel leveraged NIEER’s expertise in making recommendations for expanding access to pre-k as well as their annual State of Preschool ratings. Delaware recently came in 42nd in providing access to state-funded pre-K to four-year-olds, down from 41st the previous year. Delaware also ranks 24th among states in providing access to three-year-olds, a decrease from the previous ranking of 22nd. In 2020, Governor Carney cited this data in a K-12 education lawsuit settlement. (Read more.)
NIEER’s Karin Garver states, “Rodel engaged with us to ensure that the policies they advocated for were rooted in research and informed by the experiences of successful state preschool programs. They have done a beautiful job of keeping the entire early care and education continuum front of mind as they plan for the future, being careful not to sacrifice one type of care to benefit another.”
Rodel has also used technical assistance to build awareness of the benefits of home visiting. The state is piloting a universal model pairing every new mom with a nurse or support specialist. (Read more.)
Last year, Delaware became the 11th state to pass a paid family and medical leave law. Starting in 2026, Delawareans will receive paid leave when they welcome a new child or when they or a loved one becomes seriously ill.
Currently, the legislature is considering a bill that would establish a consistent statewide Purchase of Care reimbursement rate. In the words of the bill’s sponsor, state senator Kyle Evans Gay, “In order to expand child care services statewide, in order to build high quality environments, in order to invest early in our smallest Delawareans, we need to start by shoring up what we currently have. Making sure that providers can invest in classrooms, can invest in staff, that we can recruit staff, that we can do that statewide.”
Delaware’s changing demographics and shifting political landscape require Rodel to stay nimble. Multilingual learners make up 10% of students, and this population has seen a 40% increase since 2016. An increasing proportion of the Delaware General Assembly are politically progressive, with women (and women of color) in leadership positions as well as the first transgender person to serve.
The momentum carries through to a new wave of candidates in the state running on child care and family-centric platforms, whom Rodel engages through site visits, town halls with families, business panels, and media releases of polls and parent surveys. “The Alliance,” Bayard says, “has helped us figure out how to appeal to different audiences. That means customizing the message and citing the right data at the right time.”
“Rodel has been smart and strategic about reading the policy landscape in Delaware,” says the Alliance’s Mandy Ableidinger. “When they make use of technical assistance, it strengthens the entire advocacy community, because the lessons get shared.”
Bayard identifies this as a critical moment to score policy victories for Delaware children, including a targeted wage scale for educators comparable to what exists for K-12 public school teachers (read more). Another measure is set to provide comprehensive supports to early childhood professionals, including scholarships and wage supplements as well as tutoring, counseling, coaching, substitute coverage, and community-based delivery of training (read more).
“Public understanding of this issue has surged ahead,” she says, “and the policy makers are hearing the call for change.”