Early Childhood

Massachusetts Enterprise Targets Inadequate Preschool Facilities

By Christina A. Samuels — October 15, 2013 5 min read

For years, Community Action Inc., in Haverhill, Mass., ran a Head Start program for more than 200 children in a building that once was a turkey coop.

The facility, located on land once owned by a religious order, came with low rent and pastoral surroundings, said John Cuneo, the executive director of Community Action. But the kitchen didn’t meet local code, the walls lacked insulation, and in the winter, frozen pipes in an outbuilding used as classroom space regularly required Mr. Cuneo to run a hose from the main facility so the children and staff members could have water.

Many preschools that serve low-income and rural communities are managing programs in makeshift spaces that were never built with the needs of young children in mind. But thanks to a nonprofit in Boston called the Children’s Investment Fund, Mr. Cuneo and other preschool providers in the state are getting training and money to renovate old facilities or build new ones.

A bill that is expected to win approval in the Massachusetts legislature would set the stage for a constant source of money for the work of the Children’s Investment Fund.

At a time when early education is getting attention from leaders at the federal, state, and local levels, the approach to funding and technical assistance that Massachusetts and some other states are pursuing is seen by advocates as a model for expanding high-quality preschool options.

Makeover strategies

States are taking a variety of approaches to support the construction and renovation of preschool centers.

Direct Grants
The Pennsylvania departments of community and economic development and public welfare collaborated in making “Child Care Challenge Grants” totaling $10 million per year. The program resulted in the construction or renovation of 55 centers licensed to serve 3,365 children.

Access to Public Debt
North Carolina partnered with Self-Help Inc., a nonprofit community-development-finance institution, to guarantee loans to small center-based and home-based child-care businesses, using the federal Child Care and Development Fund.

Direct Loans
Maryland’s business and economic development department has made child-care facility loans and loan guarantees to nonprofit and for-profit center-based programs. The state seeks private bank participation in the financing, charges market or slightly below-market rates, and writes the loans for 15 to 20 years.

Subsidized Loans
The Connecticut Health and Educational Facilities Authority partially guarantees private-sector child-care loans to improve the creditworthiness of loan applicants who would not otherwise qualify.

Rate Enhancements
In Maine, providers who have earned a “quality certificate” are eligible for a variety of state financing incentives as well as a 10 percent to 15 percent bonus over the state child-care-subsidy fee.

Technical Assistance
The state contracts with the nonprofit Vermont Community Loan Fund to provide facilities-development assistance to centers. The nonprofit also administers a capital grant program that funds an annual state appropriation and sales of a special “Building Brighter Futures” child-care license plate.

Sources: Local Initiatives Support Corp.; Community Investment Collaborative for Kids

“What we’ve seen in the last four or five years, when the economy has been bad, is that borrowing for improving facilities has really leveled off and virtually disappeared,” said Mav Pardee, the program manager for the Children’s Investment Fund. “Programs have been very concerned about mere survival.”

But the current national conversation has provided a boost, and an opportunity to think, once again, about the facilities where children may spend hours each day. Facilities “are another dimension of quality,” Ms. Pardee said.

Poor Climate Control

James Eldridge, a Massachusetts state senator who chairs the legislature’s joint committee on housing, said he expected the Massachusetts measure—part of a $1.4 billion housing-bond bill—to become law by the end of this month. The legislation would provide a $45 million bond for improving child-care facilities.

In 2011, the Children’s Investment Fund conducted a survey of 182 child-care centers across the state that target a low-income population, and found many of them to be lacking.

Several programs were housed in facilities that did not meet building code. Seventy percent of the centers did not have classroom sinks. Forty percent lacked restrooms directly accessible from the classroom, considered a best practice for programs serving young children. Only one space was fully accessible for children with disabilities.

Also, one-third of the centers said they were not able to maintain comfortable indoor temperatures in the winter and summer.

While those findings are specific to Massachusetts, they are not unusual in other parts of the country for preschool providers who serve a low-income population, said Amy Gillman, the senior program director for the Community Investment Collaborative for Kids, a program of the New York City-based Local Initiatives Support Corp. The collaborative works nationwide to provide technical assistance and funding to preschool providers.

“There’s a misconception that there’s enough of an operating stream that you can set some of that aside to pay for improved facilities,” Ms. Gillman said.

In reality, the margins are thin. “We tell providers to never take from a program,” she said. “You don’t want to build a building for a poor-quality program.”

Convincing lawmakers of the importance of high-quality facilities is not difficult, according to Ms. Gillman. “Mostly we hear that, ‘Yes, we do acknowledge that facilities are an issue.’ But what it comes down to is resources and where is the funding going to come from,” she said.

Permanent Funding

States have taken several different tacks to meet the facilities needs of child-care providers. Some have provided direct grants, as Pennsylvania did from 2002 to 2004. During that time, the state awarded $30 million to 55 centers, which used the money to build or renovate their spaces.

Other states have chosen to establish permanent funding streams, such as what Massachusetts is attempting to do. Connecticut, through its Child Care Facilities Loan Fund, provides bond financing for nonprofits, guarantees loans to induce private lenders to work with providers, and offers direct loans to small centers and home-based providers.

An additional challenge for providers is developing the expertise to plan a renovation or building project and see it through to completion. Preschool directors may know how to hire a good teacher, but usually have no experience hiring a qualified architect, Ms. Gillman said.

In 2003, Mr. Cuneo went through a program sponsored by the Children’s Investment Fund called Building Stronger Centers, where he and other providers learned the nuts and bolts of managing a construction project.

The fund also helped connect him with MassDevelopment, the state’s financing authority, which underwrote the $1.5 million renovation project, completed in 2007. The program is now housed in a former elementary school that had been mothballed by the local school district.

“The most important thing is having quality classrooms,” Mr. Cuneo said. “They’re nicely laid out, they are colorful, they are decorated appropriately, there are sinks in each classroom, and toilet facilities. And we were able to upgrade the playground area.”

Donna M. Denette, the executive director of Children First Enterprises in rural Granby, Mass., also went through the Building Stronger Centers program. Before renovations, her center was operating out of a vacant hair salon, a church basement, and the corner of a school cafeteria.

After $1.7 million in renovations, completed in 2010, the center now has appropriate classroom space for the preschool and school-age population it serves.

“We had this great philosophy, great staff, great curriculum, but the facility just didn’t support staff,” Ms. Denette said. “There was no place to have a kid who was sick waiting to be picked up, no place to have a private meeting with a parent.”

“I never could have done it without” the Children’s Investment Fund, she said.

A version of this article appeared in the October 16, 2013 edition of Education Week as Mass. Enterprise Targets Inadequate Preschool Facilities

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Law & Courts Webinar
The Future of Criminal Justice Reform: A Sphere Education Initiative Conversation
America’s criminal justice system is in crisis and calls for reform are dominating the national debate. Join Cato’s Sphere Education Initiative and Education Week for a webinar on criminal justice and policing featuring the nation’s
Content provided by Cato Institute
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Equity, Care and Connection: New SEL Tools and Practices to Support Students and Adults
As school districts plan to welcome students back into buildings for the upcoming school year, this is the perfect time to take a hard look at both our practices and our systems to build a
Content provided by Panorama Education
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Classroom Technology Webinar
Here to Stay – Pandemic Lessons for EdTech in Future Development
What technology is needed in a post pandemic district? Learn how changes in education will impact development of new technologies.
Content provided by AWS

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Early Childhood Opinion Waterford Upstart on Providing Remote Learning to 90,000 Pre-K Kids
Rick Hess speaks with Dr. LaTasha Hadley of Waterford Upstart about its use of adaptive software to close gaps in kindergarten readiness.
6 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
Early Childhood How Two Child-Care Centers Put Competition Aside and Created a Partnership During COVID-19
Due to COVID-19, two early-childhood centers put their competition aside to work together to support families during the pandemic.
Charles Dinofrio
7 min read
Early Childhood New Players Fill Child-Care Gap as Schools Go Remote
As school districts move to remote instruction for the fall, day-care providers, dance studios, and after-school programs step in to fill school-day child-care gaps.
7 min read
A student works on schoolwork earlier this month at the Wharton Dobson Club in Wharton, Texas, part of the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Houston. For a small fee, the organization is offering a full-day program that provides students a safe place to complete their remote learning classwork and socialize with friends.
A student works on schoolwork earlier this month at the Wharton Dobson Club in Wharton, Texas, part of the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Houston. For a small fee, the organization is offering a full-day program that provides students a safe place to complete their remote learning classwork and socialize with friends.
Courtesy of Boys and Girls Club of Greater Houston
Early Childhood Will Kindergartens Be Empty This Fall?
As cases of COVID-19 continue to grow, parents around the country are struggling with whether to send their child to kindergarten this fall. Some say they won't.
6 min read
Satiria Clayton was looking forward to her 5-year-old son Cassius starting kindergarten this year in Tempe, Ariz., but the recent spike in coronavirus cases has left her, like many other parents, worried about what to expect. "In an ideal would I would love to stay at home and teach him,” she said. “The reality is I have to send him to school."
Satiria Clayton was looking forward to her 5-year-old son Cassius starting kindergarten this year in Tempe, Ariz., but the recent spike in coronavirus cases has left her, like many other parents, worried about what to expect. "In an ideal would I would love to stay at home and teach him,” she said. “The reality is I have to send him to school."
Courtesy of Satiria Clayton