Indiana suffers from a lack of quality early childhood care options and a decline in the number of providers. Two state agencies are hopeful new federal funding will help improve the future of early childhood education.
A $42 million grant was awarded to the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration Office of Early Childhood and Out-of-School Learning, in partnership with the Indiana Department of Education Office of Kindergarten Readiness. The money will be used to improve access to early childhood education, recruit educators, and fund outreach and research to help boost the state’s struggling childcare landscape.
Courtney Penn is the director of the agency’s Office of Early Childhood and Out-of-School Learning. She said the state needs to evaluate how access and staffing problems have evolved in the last few years.
“Part of the funding is going to be used to do a new needs assessment, ‘post-pandemic,’ and also within the new state of the world that we're living in with the workforce crisis – that we're in childcare deserts, etc. – and really have that drive the work as well,” Penn said.
To make affordable care more accessible, the grant will fund streamlined access to subsidized care for families who qualify. As an example, Penn said that could be a “one-stop-shop” to apply for other income-based social services like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, and the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, or TANF.
Penn also said the grant has a heavy focus on building access and capacity for infant and toddler care, specifically in areas around the state where that care is most absent.
To recruit new educators, the grant will fund apprenticeships and partnerships with Ivy Tech and local high schools.
In an effort to retain educators who are already in the field, providers will be offered free or subsidized child care, even if they don’t meet the standard income threshold.
These initiatives will also be paid for with an overflow of federal funds provided during the pandemic.
Penn said the state will work to make these improvements sustainable in the long-term once the funding ends.
“That's the next ask would be – as a state – do we want to invest state and local dollars into continuation of these particular initiatives to continue to take place, even after this funding is over?” Penn said.