Educare: Creating Comprehensive Early Care and Education Centers

Jan 11, 2010


Educare is an initiative that draws on public and private resources to create and sustain comprehensive early care and education centers for low-income families with children from birth to age 5. These centers can serve as a model location, program, and a platform for policy change in the communities and states in which they are developed. The goal of Educare is to address the scarcity of high-quality programs, particularly for at-risk infants and toddlers, and to narrow the achievement gap.

Educare grew out of an effort led by the Ounce of Prevention Fund to promote school readiness and later success of at-risk children in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Chicago, Illinois. The first Educare Center opened in 2000 with support for construction from private partners, in particular the Irving Harris Foundation, and public funding for ongoing services from the state of Illinois (from Title XX and state general revenue), Chicago Public Schools, Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) dollars, and federal Head Start and Early Head Start grant funds.

Since the launching of the Chicago Educare center, additional centers have opened in Denver (CO), Miami (FL), Milwaukee (WI), Oklahoma City (OK), Omaha (NE), and Tulsa (OK). Additional centers in Kansas City (MO), Omaha (NE), Phoenix (AZ), Seattle (WA), Tulsa (OK), Waterville (ME), West DuPage (IL), and Yakima (WA) are currently in development. The Buffett Early Childhood Fund has partnered with the Ounce of Prevention Fund to create the nationwide Bounce Learning Network of Educare Centers. The purpose of the Network is to provide a forum in which Educare leadership staff can come together to share, problem-solve, and receive technical assistance and support from the Ounce of Prevention Fund and the Buffett Early Childhood Fund regarding issues of program development, implementation, and continuous quality improvement of the Educare model.[1] Conversations about creating Educare centers are also underway in numerous other communities across the country. 


What Does Educare Look Like?

Each Educare serves 140-200 at-risk infants, toddlers, preschool-aged children, and their families. The Educare model was shaped in part by accumulated research findings on early childhood development from multi-disciplinary fields. Major studies, such as those of the Abecedarian Project, the Perry Preschool Program, and the National Early Head Start Evaluation, informed the design of the program. Twelve core features were incorporated into the Educare model based on research findings and evidence-based practice:  

  • Small class size and high staff-to-child ratios: For infant/toddler classrooms, this means a maximum class size of eight children and a minimum of three adults per room.
  • High staff qualifications and intensive professional development: Each Educare center has "master" teachers with advanced degrees in early childhood that supervise, mentor, and coach teaching staff. For infant/toddler classrooms, master teachers must also have experience or training specific to infant/toddler care.
  • Language and literacy focus: Children are assessed on oral language, vocabulary, and early literacy development. These assessments are designed according to age and are used by teachers to help create individual and group lesson plans.
  • Emphasis on social-emotional development to promote school readiness: Educare centers have an intentional emphasis on social-emotional development in their use of appropriate screening and assessments, design of curriculum and lesson plans, and engagement with families. Transitions are also planned carefully. Staff that care for infants and toddlers receive training in the Program for Infant/Toddler Care (PITC), a relationship-based training administered by WestEd.
  • Continuity of care: Each infant is assigned a primary teacher, who remains with the child from birth to age 3. A primary teacher may be assigned to no more than four infants and toddlers.
  • Enhanced focus on problem-solving and numeracy: Emphasis on these skills is included in individual child strength plans, the curriculum, and lesson plans, and also informs the design of group interactions.
  • Arts used to support social-emotional, language, and literacy development: Each Educare center has an arts program coordinator who organizes various fine arts activities for children and their families, such as dance, drama, and story-telling events.
  • On-site family support services: Each Educare center has five to seven family support specialists that work to nurture parent-child relationships and increase parental involvement. The specialists work with families to support them in their role as nurturers and educators of their children.
  • Emphasis on prenatal services: The Educare model emphasizes the importance of early intervention services, including prenatal support. Some centers are experimenting with a home visiting program called the Community Doula Program. Doulas are trained women based in the community that provide direct support, assistance, and education to new mothers starting from pregnancy into the early months of motherhood.
  • Reflective supervision and practice throughout the program: To support professional development and the ability to be reflective about their work, all management and program staff receive special reflective supervision training. In addition, supervisors oversee small groups of no more than six staff members.
  • Research-based practices and strategies: Each Educare Center participates in a national Implementation Study with a local evaluation partner who conducts program assessments and individual assessments of children. The data collected contribute to the national study, as well as help Educare make ongoing quality improvements and to help set goals for children and families.
  • An interdisciplinary and effective team approach: Education and family support staff as well as consultants work together to address the individual needs of children and families.


Teacher and Staff Training

Each Educare classroom has a three-adult team consisting of a teacher with a bachelor\'s degree in early childhood, an assistant teacher with an associate\'s degree in early childhood, and an aide with a CDA and high school diploma. The classroom teaching team is supervised, mentored, and coached by Master Teachers, who have masters-level degrees in early childhood. Salary increases are given with educational advancements and ongoing professional development is provided.

Prior to opening, Educare staff participates in three levels of preparation: orientation, foundational training, and core training (content-specific lessons) provided directly through the Ounce of Prevention Fund or by experts in the field, such as Erikson Institute and the Brazelton Touchpoints Center. Some staff members also attend the Program for Infant/Toddler Care (PITC) for further preparation.

In addition, program advisors for the Bounce Network, housed at the Ounce of Prevention Fund, work with leadership staff onsite to ensure they are able to apply the skills and knowledge that they learned in the trainings and also provide individualized consultation and "implementation assistance" on the Educare model. Program advisors have an implementation checklist of observable measures to assess program implementation and fidelity to the model.


Replicating Educare: Securing Start-Up and Ongoing Operational Funding

Educare Centers are designed to meet the unique needs of the community and state in which they are located. All Educares begin with the formation of a public-private partnership and the execution of a capital campaign. The purpose of the campaign is to raise funding for the specially designed center and, more importantly, serve as a platform for change by seeking out partners in the private sector who might not have traditionally been encouraged to serve as early childhood advocates and champions. Educare is built on a public-private partnership that includes at minimum three critical players: private philanthropists, Head Start/Early Head Start providers, and local school districts. Major funders who have helped start Educare centers include the Irving Harris Foundation in Chicago, the Buffett Early Childhood Fund in Omaha and Milwaukee, businessman and philanthropist George Kaiser in Tulsa, the Chambers Family Fund in Denver, the Inasmuch Foundation in Oklahoma City, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in Washington state, and Doris Buffett and the William and Joan Alfond Foundation in Maine. Anchor funders from the private sector make a long-term, abiding commitment to their local Educare and participate in shared governance. 

To spark local capital campaigns, challenge grants are also offered through the "Educare Replication Pool" funded by the Buffett Early Childhood Fund, the Irving Harris Foundation, the George Kaiser Family Foundation (as part of the Tulsa Community Foundation), the Gates Foundation, and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. As expenses have increased with time, the construction costs for an Educare center have risen from $4.1 million (Chicago, 2000) to $9 million (Oklahoma City, 2009), not including furniture, equipment, and legal/architectural fees. Most Educares complete land deals with the local public schools, allowing Educare to be adjacent to a center-city school, which sends a strong signal that children are learning from birth.  

A critical component to securing ongoing operational funding is Head Start/Early Head Start. Usually a Head Start/Early Head Start grantee provides the core funding for operational costs. On average across all existing Educare centers, about 60 percent of a center\'s operating budget, which ranges from $2.8 million to $3.3 million a year, comes from Head Start/Early Head Start. Local or state governments may serve as additional partners.   

In addition to Head Start/Early Head Start, other public funding sources that Educare centers report pulling together to provide the comprehensive program model include CCDBG subsidy payments for eligible children (7 percent) and state and local education funding, such as Title I (20 percent). Private sources include the private sector (10 percent) and parent co-payments (less than 3 percent).   


How State Leaders Have Helped Educare Develop


  • Bring together potential funders and supporters: Maine\'s First Lady, Karen Baldacci, was instrumental in helping start Educare of Central Maine by reaching out to business and foundation leaders and bringing media attention to the launch of the Educare program.  Also in Maine, the Governor\'s nomination of the Educare of Central Maine program for the federal "Center of Excellence" competitive bid for the state has support from all 16 Head Start directors.
  • Make start-up funding available: In Maine, Governor Baldacci and the legislature approved a one-time $2 million appropriation of State Fiscal Stabilization Funds from the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) to support the construction of Educare of Central Maine. These funds served as a match to substantial private investments.
  • Allow blended funding: Educare programs often need to layer CCDBG and federal Head Start/Early Head Start dollars together for the same child and in the same classroom with state and local pre-kindergarten funds in order to offer the high level of quality services full-day, full-year.Some states have rules against such blending, although federal guidance allows for collaboratively funded programs.
  • Stabilize access to CCDBG funds: Leveraging diverse funding streams requires significant work for Educare administrators to understand the requirements and program standards which apply to each and also remain true to the vision of Educare. For example, many Educare centers have difficulty securing stable access to CCDBG child care subsidy dollars for their families because state subsidy policies-such as linking eligibility to parental work status or set time periods-do not support the continuity of care core feature of Educare. Federal guidance has clarified that states have flexibility in setting eligibility standards when child care subsidy dollars are layered with other early childhood programs. Illinois\' Child Care Collaboration Program makes it easier to blend child care subsidy dollars with Early Head Start and other dollars. Instead of re-determination every six months, families participating in collaborating programs are initially approved for one year. Although families must report changes in family income during the year which can affect their eligibility, they are allowed a 90-day grace period if they lose employment.
  • Raise state program standards: Maine is exploring integration of Educare standards as the highest level on Maine\'s Quality Rating System.



To assess the effectiveness of the Educare model, the Frank Porter Graham Institute at the University of North Carolina is leading the evaluation to measure program quality as well as child and family outcomes. The study is currently in process, although some promising early returns from Educare programs in five cities-Chicago, Denver, Milwaukee, Omaha, and Tulsa-have been released. Across the five Educare sites, 80% of infant-toddler classrooms were rated as good or excellent using the Infant Toddler Environmental Rating Scale (ITERS-R). Data showed that the longer children participated in Educare programs, the more their school readiness and vocabulary skills improved. Children entering kindergarten who had started in Educare between birth and two years old exceeded the mean national score on the Bracken Basic Concepts Scale, a measure of school readiness that assesses a child\'s understanding of communication concepts such as letters, sequence, and colors.

In addition, each Educare center must have a local evaluation partner that they collaborate with to conduct program assessments that assist with ongoing quality improvements. 



Harriet Meyer
President, Ounce of Prevention Fund
(312) 922-3863 ext. 3313

Portia Kennel
Senior Vice President of the Bounce Learning Network
(312) 922-3863 ext. 3329

Mary Jane Chainski
Director of the Bounce Learning Network
(312) 922-3863 ext. 3361

Michael Burke
Program Director, Buffett Early Childhood Fund


See all Charting Progress for Babies in Child Care State Examples.

Read more about how to Build Supply of Quality Care, including research, policy ideas, and links to online resources.

Read more about how to Promote Continuity of Care, including research, policy ideas, and links to online resources.

Read more about how to Promote Access to Comprehensive Services, including research, policy ideas, and links to online resources. 


[1] The Bounce Learning Network currently consists of local Educare partnerships in Chicago, IL; Denver, CO; Milwaukee, WI; Miami, FL; Oklahoma City, OK; Omaha, NE; Seattle, WA; Tulsa, OK; West DuPage, IL; and Yakima, WA.


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