Part II: Functions and Capacities of P-3 Governance

(Part II of II. For Part I click here.)

Governance change has been a catalyst for broader system development in the states that have chosen to focus on this subsystem (Dichter, 2015; Gomez, 2014), though much more empirical work needs to occur in order to understand how governance affects state system development and, subsequently, services to children and families. More than a simple reorganization of the deck chairs within state government, revamped approaches to P-3 governance have led to states experiencing different outcomes for P-3 system development. Indeed, in her study of governance and RTTT-ELC States, Dichter notes that state leaders who have invested in integrated approaches to P-3 governance believe that it “improves services for children through greater focus, consistency, and inclusion of all developmental domains” (2015, p.2). Leveraging the three types of approaches discussed in the first part of this series, I provide examples of the ways in which consolidated and regionalized approaches to governance have influenced P-3 system development in some states.

14476018886_082318a3f5_oConsolidated approaches to governance create conditions that render a high degree of consistency in implementing programs and services. This is, in part, because policymaking for P-3 is centralized (Gomez, 2014). For instance, PA’s OCDEL, in carrying out its function as a standard-setter for the state, has created sets of standards for children, standards for ECE programs, and standards for teacher qualifications. Using these standards as a baseline for programs, OCDEL has now begun to collect data on each of these three groups (children, programs, and teachers) via its statewide data collection system, PELICAN. The state uses the data collected to hold programs accountable and to divert funding where it is needed (e.g., additional investment in workforce supports to help teachers meet the minimum qualifications). Additional benefits: a centralized locus of authority can be seen with regard to the state-funded preschool programs in MD and PA. In PA, many policy decisions about pre-K are centralized. There is, for example, a 180-day minimum for service provision within the PA Pre-K Counts programs, to align those programs with academic year requirements. Furthermore, PA Pre-K Counts programs are required to adhere to many of the same quality standards set forth for programs participating in other OCDEL programs, like maintaining a STAR 3 or 4 status within the QRIS and adhering to the PA Early Learning Standards. In MD, we see signs of the same centralization with regard to policies governing pre-K programs (Barnett, Carolan, Squires, Clarke Brown, & Horowitz, 2015).

A study (Gomez, Kagan, & Khanna, 2012) of regional approaches to governance in NC, AZ, and IA, revealed that there is a little distance between the governance apparatus and those it purports to serve. This low level of distance or, “proximity,” was important because it enabled the governance functions to be carried out with a great deal of responsiveness and efficiency. Rather than having to navigate a large bureaucratic structure, or determine how to carry out functions for an entire state, the regional approach enables the councils/boards/partnerships to execute governance functions with a great deal of flexibility, responsiveness, and efficiency. Moreover, the regional approach empowers local control and decision-making in terms of fiscal and programmatic management, while freeing up the state-level entities to work on things that do not require a great deal of “proximity,” like monitoring or evaluative activities. Looking specifically at state-funded pre-K, we can see that policy decisions are more decentralized. For example, in Arizona, scholarship decisions for the publicly funded pre-K program are made at the regional council level (Barnett, et al., 2015).

An important facet of any approach to governance is its capacity to adapt to changes in the P-3 field and to make meaningful adjustments in its governance strategies based on these changes to effectively manage the P-3 system. States with consolidated and regionalized approaches to governance have developed formalized authority structures through which they can explore and exploit (Duit & Galaz, 2008) new and existing resources to improve the functionality of the P-3 system.

Exploration is the capacity of a governance approach to be creative, to innovate, and to experiment. In essence, exploration is the ability to be flexible and to explore a variety of strategies for governing complex systems. Exploitation is the capacity of a governance approach to leverage new and existing resources and integrate them into the system with efficiency (Duit & Galaz, 2008). Governance reform in Maryland, for instance altered the way that the state agency used funding, “applying it more strategically to meet specific agency goals” (Graffwallner, 2015, p. 125). The centerpiece of these “specific agency goals” in Maryland has been improving the infrastructure for, access to, and quality of early learning services – including publicly-funded pre-K. .

This notion of adaptive capacity, along with other contemporary governance issues is explored with greater depth in Early childhood governance: Choices and consequences. In it, we explore the status of governance systems for young children in the U.S., retrospectively and prospectively. This volume presents a series of analyses, discussions, and debates about what governance is, why it is important to the early childhood field, and how we could use governance as a lever to advance P-3 system development–ultimately improving services to young children and their families.

Further reading about governance in practice:

Dichter, H. (2015). “State systems-building through governance.” In H. Dichter and S. Hibbard (Eds.) Rising to the challenge: Building effective state systems for young children and families. (pp. 2-14). Boulder, CO: Build Initiative.

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