Journal Issue: Financing Child Care Volume 6 Number 2 Summer/Fall 1996
Author Response: Edward Zigler and Matia Finn-Stevenson
In his commentary, Goldberg writes that "one of the obstacles to examining academic proposals for major policy change is the tendency to evaluate them in terms of the current political climate." However, this sort of analysis is essential if the nation is to move beyond proposals for financing child care to action. All three reviewers to some extent offer helpful critiques of the School of the 21st Century proposal within the context of current political realities.
As the reviewers note, some of that political context involves opposition by the public at large or the child care community to the use of the public school for purposes other than traditional K-12 education. However, schools and communities have been moving in that direction for a long time, beginning at the turn of the century when schools responded to immigration, industrialization, and urbanization with special services for children and families. This movement continues today with school-based health clinics and programs such as the Beacon Schools in New York City, the School of the Future in Texas, and Healthy Start in California.1
Indeed, we are convinced that the only way to resolve the problems created by child care's "nonsystem" is to establish a child care system, and we assert that it is philosophically consistent with public opinion as well as practical to merge child care with the public schools. It is certainly less expensive to merge child care with an existing system such as the public schools than it is to create an entirely new system with its attendant infrastructure.
However, the approach is not without limitations. As Goldberg and Piel point out, for example, inequalities among schools in upper- and lower-income areas will likely affect program implementation. As Schultz says, the public must be persuaded to commit public education funds for child care. Although we believe that argument is clear, to ignore the need for good child care for young children consigns them to care of such poor quality that their development is compromised, and costly remedial services become necessary once the children enter public school.
The reviewers make many other good points, but also a few that suggest some misunderstandings. For example, Schultz writes that schools are encouraged to initiate child care "with only a modest investment of donated space, start-up costs, and administrative services." In fact, for some school districts, as noted in Figures 2 and 3 in our article, the investment in donated space and start-up costs is quite substantial and helps cover operational costs and keep child care fees low.
Second, Schultz asserts that schools are advised that they can compensate staff at no more than the current wage levels in other local child care agencies. Ironically, this is sometimes a consequence of the opposition (usually short-lived) to 21C schools from the child care community. For example, concerns on the part of child care providers in the community that schools would offer child care workers higher salaries and thereby lure them away from their existing jobs and into the schools, have led some 21C schools to keep wages at community levels, at least initially.
Good-quality care is a primary goal of 21C schools, and evidence from the School of the 21st Century program in Independence, Missouri (that both we and Schultz mentioned2 ), indicates that quality has increased steadily there over the past three years. During the program's first year, staff turnover in that 21C school was 90%; it is now only 40%. Additionally, the program's quality has been evaluated by independent researchers, and results indicate steady improvement such that quality is now above average.
As we assert in our proposal, once broader implementation takes place, steps will be needed and costs incurred to ensure good quality child care in all communities, and that is why we urge changes in local, state, and national policy to make the Schools of the 21st Century a reality.
- Dryfoos, J. Full service schools: A revolution in health and social services for children, youth, and families. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 1994; W. Holtzman, ed. School of the Future. Austin, TX: American Psychological Association and Hogg Foundation for Mental Health, 1992; C. Larson, ed. School-linked services. The Future of Children. (Spring 1992) 2,1:1–144.
- The program referred to was reviewed by Regenstein, M., Silow-Carroll, S., and Meyer, J. in Early childhood education: Models for expanding access. Washington, DC: The Economic and Social Research Institute, 1995.