PolicyMap User Spotlight: Expanding Access to Quality Early Childhood Education in Newark, NJ

newark-child-care-map-logoThe benefits of quality early childhood education (ECE) are well-known and plentiful: not only does it prepare children to build relationships, learn in school and have successful careers, but it’s a critical component for closing the achievement gap among low- and moderate-income children. Given the overwhelming evidence of the benefits on children, family and society, communities around the country are looking to increase access to quality early learning. Race to the Top, the subsequent growth of statewide quality ratings systems, and the movement towards universal pre-K have all led towards a growing emphasis on strategic planning around early childhood education.

In light of this, PolicyMap, along with our friends at Reinvestment Fund, has been working with cities to help expand access to quality early childhood education. Most recently, in Winter of 2015, we worked with ECE stakeholders in Newark, NJ, to develop an interactive mapping tool identifying neighborhoods where high-quality care is most scarce and where investments are most needed. The Foundation for Newark’s Future funded the tool’s initial construction and its maintenance is being supported by the Nicholson Foundation.

Programs for Parents (PfP), a local non-profit supporting families and child care centers in Newark, is hosting the Newark Childcare Mapping Tool on its website and helping spread the word out about it in the community. According to Beverly Lynn, PfP’s CEO, “The Newark Child Care Map has proven to be a powerful and practical tool. It allows child care providers, policy makes and investors to leverage formerly disparate and difficult to access data to optimize decision making and planning in ways that were previously impossible.”

blogpost_20161018_nwrk_map2_kcThe tool is being used by a variety of ECE stakeholders, such as policymakers, funders and childcare centers. La Casa de don Pedro is one of the local community development organizations benefiting from it. As Executive Director Ray Ocasio states, “When La Casa was recently awarded a Head Start grant in July to assume operations in September, it was necessary to quickly identify and assess Newark’s existing Head Start centers that would best serve our needs and the community. The Newark Childcare Mapping Tool allowed us to identify optimum locations based on geography and need for the program.”

New Jersey is in the process of rolling out Grow New Jersey Kids, its Quality Rating Improvement System. Until this statewide system is more established, “high-quality” on the tool is measured as any center that is either a Head Start center, part of New Jersey’s Abbott program or nationally accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).

In 2014, PolicyMap and Reinvestment Fund completed a similar mapping tool in Philadelphia, which led to the capitalization of a Fund for Quality, a fund providing business planning support and facilities-related financing to high-quality ECE centers looking to expand in areas of documented need. Based on this Philadelphia model, Newark stakeholders are interested in developing a strategy and capitalizing a similar fund to expand the availability of high-quality ECE in areas where they are most needed in Newark. PolicyMap and Reinvestment Fund are currently working with ECE stakeholders in Passaic County, NJ, to develop a similar analysis and mapping tool there.