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Report: States are Making Progress in Creating Integrated ECE Systems

Resource January 25, 2023

Last week, the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) released a state-by-state report analyzing the integration and efficiency of early care and education (ECE) systems. This report serves as a follow-up to a 2018 analysis that examined governance structures, as well as opportunities and challenges in administering comprehensive ECE systems. According to BPC, since 2018, many states have moved in a positive direction toward further integration of ECE programming within agencies and more than half of states implemented a more efficient structure or strategy. Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Mexico, North Dakota, and Virginia made particularly notable progress. BPC offers recommendations for governors, Congress, and federal agencies to address these challenges. 

Most federal ECE funds flow from the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services directly to states. There are a variety of state agencies responsible for administering ECE funding and programs, and the way that states manage ECE funding streams directly impacts the efficiency and effectiveness of their programs. While some states have highly integrated systems, others continue to experience problems with duplication, fragmentation, and lack of coordination in ECE programs. These problems often result in families having to apply to multiple programs, housed in multiple agencies, with duplicative paperwork requirements and inconsistent eligibility criteria. These administrative burdens and duplicative processes can make it difficult for many children and families to access critical services and for providers to meet different program standards and requirements.

However, governors maintain considerable discretion over the organization and management of federal dollars, and states have significant latitude in designing ECE systems. For states to truly meet the needs of children and families, they need to have structures that are well-positioned to distribute federal funding efficiently and effectively. This includes seamless program alignment and integration of services, efficient use of public resources, transparent monitoring and oversight, and integrated early childhood data systems. 

BPC Scoring Criteria

To evaluate states, BPC used a scoring system that incorporates measures of programmatic governance and integration including:

  • The number of state agencies involved in administering major federal programs, including CCDBG, the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), Head Start, IDEA Part B and C, TANF, and PDG B-5;
  • Institutional placement of key offices such as the Head Start Collaboration Office; 
  • The presence of an Early Childhood State Advisory Council (SAC); and
  • Efforts to integrate quality metrics, such as a Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS), with state child care subsidy programs.
  • Bonus points were awarded to states that supplemented federal funding with additional state resources beyond the minimum level required. Points were deducted if states failed to fully utilize federal funds. 

Key Takeaways

Overall, BPC found that states were moving their ECE systems to “more consolidated structures that increase efficiency and potential to reduce duplication across services for children and families.”

Number of Agencies Administering ECE Programs

When programs are located in the same agency, there is more potential for collaboration and coordination. Among the top 10 scoring states, 8 administer funds for CCDF, CACFP, and state Pre-K programs through a single agency, and nearly all housed their Head Start Collaboration Office in the same agency. As demonstrated in the table below, 31 states have two agencies or less involved in administering ECE programs and 15 states have three.

Source: BPC

Placement of State Advisory Councils and Head Start Collaboration Offices

The report found that while Head Start Collaboration Offices coordinate and collaborate on Head Start, child care, and state Pre-K, these offices were not always housed with both CCDF and state Pre-K programs. 

  • Head Start Collaboration Office housed with both CCDF and state Pre-K programs: in 20 states
  • Head Start Collaboration Office housed with CCDF but not state Pre-K in: 11 states
  • Housed with state Pre-K but not CCDF in: 11 states

South Dakota was the only state that has not established an Early Childhood State Advisory Council (SAC).

Use of Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS)

Since the release of BPC’s 2018 report, 8 more states have embedded their QRIS within their state’s licensing system to create a seamless approach to continuous quality improvement. Currently, a total of 11 states have fully integrated QRIS into their statewide ECE system. BPC also notes that there has been an uptick in the number of states requiring subsidized providers to participate in QRIS, with 14 states doing so.

Importance of ECE Governance Systems and Opportunities 

By improving and integrating ECE governance systems, states can maximize the reach of state and federal investments and ultimately better serve children and families. The report calls on governors to use their authority to move toward a more seamless integration of services for families with young children and emphasizes how the Preschool Development Grant Birth through Five (PDG B-5) program, as well as the administrative set-aside in CCDBG and Head Start, can serve as opportunities to better support efficient state governance structures. PDG B-5 funding has already helped states achieve many of the successes outlined in the report and increasing federal appropriations for PDG B-5, as well as other programs, could enable more states to implement actions that support efficient state governance structures. 

View the full report, including recommendations for governors, Congress, and federal agencies here. Find the state fact sheets here

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