Many states have gone into overdrive, sending money to providers as fast as possible — but without time for a thoughtful disbursement strategy. States are now at risk of creating a childcare bubble, where some centers are reliant on government funding and may not be sustainable without it. Some areas are seeing a glut of new, temporary centers open, while others — usually poor and underserved already — are still struggling to find open spots for children who need it.
Access to affordable childcare is a must for citizens. Without it, parents are forced to drop out of the workforce or leave their children in unsafe conditions. Funding is necessary and welcome. But how can states be sure they are sending the money to the areas that need it most, ensuring everyone has access to childcare? And how can states track outcomes to know if it’s actually helping?
Better data analysis on childcare needed
The answer to these issues lies in a robust data-driven strategy. While states continue collecting and updating reams of data, such as the number of child care centers and number of children, the disconnect lies in the ability to quickly and easily synthesize, analyze and cross-reference the data to help make meaningful funding decisions — and more importantly, track the result of those decisions to see if they are working.
For example, when I was Commissioner, if I asked for data, I was given a binder full of statistics. Further analysis could take weeks or months, when we needed it in real time. Unfortunately, most of the information we were able to analyze was often too outdated to be useful in building a strategy. We were unable to pinpoint where essential workers lived so we could target the providers in those areas. I could not easily see which parts of the state were lacking childcare spots and which had an over-supply. We could not use data to predict where childcare needs were likely to grow as more children were born and where they were shrinking as children aged out of care.
Most importantly, we could not track the outcomes of the funding we were giving to centers. We couldn’t spot areas where centers were closing despite funding or if demand for slots continued to outpace supply in areas of the state.
Without this information, and with the time pressure they are under, states are essentially using a hope-for-the-best approach to funding childcare centers.