TQEE Day on the Hill 2020

It’s that time of year again!

Time, that is, to take our case for kids to the Hill, and we’re doing it on Wednesday, February 19, 2020. Mark your calendars to join us and RSVP here now!

Your support at TQEE Day on the Hill 2019 made a big difference for Tennessee’s young children!!

Because of you we sent a strong message to legislators about the importance of early childhood education. More than 100 early education advocates from across the state joined the TQEE team in meetings with 90+ members of the Tennessee General Assembly. From all walks of life –teachers, early education program directors, mayors, business people and parents – you came to Nashville for the day!

And we made progress!! As a result of your efforts, Tennessee’s youngest learners and their families and teachers had some wins!

  • Defended Pre-K from those who would try to siphon funds away from the program!
  • Won new investments in teacher training and support
  • Held the line on accountability and ensuring parents and teachers have the data needed to track their students’ progress
  • Established broad legislative support for home visiting programs that help struggling parents build parenting skills and prepare their children for kindergarten

This year, Day on the Hill will be February 19th, 2020, and together we’ll go to bat for more and bigger wins!

Join us to help fight for:

  • Adding more PreK classrooms so ultimately all disadvantaged 4 year olds have an option to attend
  • Growing home visiting programs that support struggling parents build parenting skills and address health and school readiness needs of young families
  • Improving training and professional development to support our early grades teachers
  • Increased student support through school nurses and social workers
  • Creating more affordable, high quality child care for working families
  • Using all available federal funds to support needy Tennessee families rather than giving those monies back for use by other states or stockpiling them for “a rainy day”

And we’ll be armed with new data on the power of PreK and the impact of inadequate child care on young families and our state’s economy.

Our new child care report.

Our new report, “Want to Grow Tennessee’s Economy? Fix the Child Care Crisis,” delivers unprecedented insight into the adverse economic impacts of Tennessee’s child care system dysfunction. The consequences: $1.34 billion annually in lost earnings and revenue.

Access, affordability, and quality are the primary factors that drag down the system. Two-thirds of parents said they have trouble accessing care at all. And that’s made worse by the fact that 48 percent of Tennesseans live in a child care “desert”. That’s an area that has 3x as many children under age 5 as licensed child care spots. Yikes! And two-thirds of parents say affordability of care is a big challenge. In fact the cost of two children in center-based care is nearly $16,000 annually! That’s 21 percent of median income for a Tennessee married family of four! And as if that’s not enough, another 50 percent of parents cite finding suitable quality care as an issue!

You make the difference.

What makes the most difference at Day on the Hill are real people like you telling their stories about why early education matters. Our goal is to make it as easy as possible for policymakers to hear from you! So RSVP TODAY and Save the Date: February 19th, 2020!

Read more about our report titled “Want to Grow Tennessee’s Economy? Fix the Child Care Crisis,” and see our Tennessee Child Care Crisis Solutions Series here.

Serve & Return: How Brain Building Starts at Home

Before children are old enough to walk or talk, their brains are being wired in ways that will impact how they learn later in life. Parent-child interactions serve as the earliest building blocks for physical, cognitive and emotional development, particularly during the first three years of a child’s life. Parents can build stronger foundations for their children by actively participating in attentive and reciprocal exchanges. These exchanges are commonly referred to as “serve and return” interactions.

Serve and return is much like a game of tennis. When a child babbles, gestures, or cries, it is up to the parent to respond appropriately with words, a hug, or attentiveness. This creates a back-and-forth between parent and child that strengthens the child’s developing social and communication skills and reinforces the neural connections being built in the child’s developing brain.

In examining socioeconomic disparities, a 2019 study by the New York State Psychiatric Institute and Columbia University found that the number of back-and-forth interactions had a great impact on children’s linguistic development. Children who participated more frequently in serve and return-style interactions showed greater activity in the relevant areas of the brain than children who simply heard a wide variety of words each day.1

This further supports the idea that responsiveness plays a key role in brain development. In examining and compiling data from 37 studies on parenting and language development, researchers found that responsive, engaged parenting produced better language skills regardless of socioeconomic standing.2

Serve and return mimics adult communication and interaction by making children feel heard, cared for, and respected. While it may seem easy to dismiss very young children as not understanding or simply babbling, the reality is that children under three understand language, tone, and gestures long before they can express them. They are constantly learning each day as they test and explore the world around them. At the center of that world are their parents. When parents take the time to participate in thoughtful, responsive interactions with their children, those children learn how to be better listeners and speakers themselves.

These parent-child interactions aren’t just a key part of neural development–they also make for fun bonding moments and wonderful memories. Check out this video featuring Tennessee-based comedian DJ Pryor and his son Kingston, demonstrating an effective serve and return style “conversation” between parent and child:

Tennesseans for Quality Early Education (TQEE) is an organization dedicated to making an impact on the education of children during these formative years. We aim to support parents to be effective teachers for their children. We also focus on policies that help expand access to high-quality childcare and preschool, and that improve instructional quality from Pre-K to 3rd grade. It takes a village, and TQEE wants to be the support system that parents and children need for successful early education.

Read more about serve and return at Harvard.edu, or donate to TQEE today to drive our mission forward.


1 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30919945
2 https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-parenting-speech/responsive-mothers-may-have-kids-with-better-language-skills-idUSKBN1W92ZI

Tennessee Child Care Crisis Solutions Series: Introduction

Having published the report, Want to Grow Tennessee’s Economy? Fix the Child Care Crisis, TQEE is now dedicated to doing just that. The study revealed that Tennessee’s child care system is rife with problems of affordability, quality and access. Fixing it will require more than tweaks to component parts.  The child care system is a complex system.  What’s needed is a sophisticated new set of strategies and incentives that work in tandem to promote high quality, affordable child care while also motivating owner/operators to enter and grow in the marketplace.

Getting the desired outcomes begins with recognizing that there are four roles for child care in Tennessee’s economy:  It’s a business, a job, an early education, and a crucial work support for working families. 

  • Child care as a business. Tennessee has a large child care industry sector, made up primarily of home based, sole proprietors, and needs to grow substantially to meet market demand.  According to a report from CED, there are 13,185 market-based child care providers with revenue of $752 million in Tennessee; down 11.4% since 2010.  At the same time, 48% of Tennesseans live in a child care desert, and 65% of parents with children under age 5 report difficulty accessing suitable child care.  Part of that is because the business model of operating a child care can be challenging, keeping costs affordable to parent customers while paying child care workers or oneself enough to make a decent living. The majority of providers are small businesses which, like most across all industries, could benefit from general business development support, or shared back office services. (See our blog on The Shared Services “Hub” Model for Child Care).  Furthermore, child care is still largely a pencil and paper operation, and therefore ripe for technology adoption and innovation.  (See our blog on How Technology Can Be a Game-Changer for Child Care).  Finally, like any business with naturally slim margins, incentives and subsidies can make a world of difference in motivating business owners to expand and grow.  Ensuring that government subsidies match the actual costs of quality care would immediately accelerate growth in the marketplace. With today’s very high and steady market demand — combined with the right government incentives, adoption of new business-friendly practices, and targeted business development support — child care could become an even more robust contributor to Tennessee’s economy and a source of income and economic mobility for entrepreneurs.
  • Child care as a job. In terms of jobs, there are 28,430 sole proprietors and wage and salary employees in the child care sector, bringing in $360 million in earnings and compensation.  The challenge now is that most child care providers struggle with a business model in which keeping tuition affordable for families often means paying the child care workforce low wages. According to Indeed.com online job listing service, the average salary for a “Daycare” Teacher is $9.25 per hour in Tennessee, which is 11% below the national average. The typical tenure for is less than 1 year. Workforce training and retention are both central to ensuring quality care; but if the work doesn’t pay competitive wages, people are much less likely to enter and stay in the job. With the right government incentives for child care businesses, combined with more targeted, creative use of workforce training programs in high schools and post-secondary education, employment and sole proprietorship in this sector could become a more appealing and family-sustaining career option.
  • Child care as early education. In Tennessee there are more than 300,000 children under age 6 with all available parents in the workforce. That means they are spending time in child care during the crucial early years when the human brain experiences its most significant growth. The quality of the child care setting is either impeding or advancing that brain development.  A massive body of research has documented impressive returns on investment for high quality early education programs of $7-13 for every $1 invested from longer-term positive effects on employment, health, criminal activity, and dependence on government assistance.  The quality of the care is 100% dependent on the quality of the teacher workforce.  Investments in the training and development the child care workforce, combined with new business models and incentives that ensure child care workers can earn a decent living, will go a long way toward ensuring that child care is of the quality that our children need and deserve.
  • Child care as a crucial support for working families.  Finally, as revealed in our groundbreaking report, Want to Grow Tennessee’s Economy? Fix the Child Care Crisis, working parents of young children are struggling with work participation and productivity challenges due to child care, with an adverse impact on their earnings of $850 million annually.  But the challenges of finding child care that is affordable, accessible and high quality are immense, especially for low-income and middle-income families.  Fixing this crisis for them depends on fixing child care as a job, a business and an early education.  Getting that right will improve economic mobility for Tennessee’s working families, strengthen the state’s business productivity, and help ensure our children are prepared to be our workforce of tomorrow.

It’s time to rethink our state’s child care system. Tackling the child care crisis is doable, but requires development of a sophisticated strategic plan that factors all of the complexities, component parts and multiple stakeholders in the system.  This job is not the job of one department of government, or one business sector.  It requires systems thinking, public and private sector engagement, more effective use of government resources, and de-siloing of government departments.

Our hope is for Governor Lee to make tackling this crisis a priority and for his administration to play a leadership role in marshaling the public and private sector together to develop a new plan for child care in Tennessee.

Today we launch a blog series, “Fixing the Crisis” in which we offer up ideas for the kinds of strategies that might be included in such a strategic plan, and some of the public resources available to invest in solutions. We’d love to hear your thoughts too. Share them with us by posting your comments!

View the other solutions series posts:

BLOG 2: Government Resources Available to Fix the Child Care Crisis
BLOG 3: Share Services Networks: A Smart Solution for Growing More Affordable, High Quality Child Care
BLOG 4: How Technology Can Be A Game Changer for Child Care
BLOG 5: Business Strategies for Supporting Employee Parents


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