Growing evidence of how Earned Income Tax Credits can help benefit children

By Alan Richard

Interest has grown in the presidential race and on Capitol Hill over possible expansions of Earned Income Tax Credits (EITCs). ICS recently convened an expert panel in Washington to discuss how leaders might weigh EITCs’ impact on young children and their families.

At the federal level, the EITC is a refundable tax credit for families who work, “fading out” as family income increases. EITCs are drawing interest from across the political spectrum for their potential to make an even greater difference in low-income families’ lives than some more expensive programs, said Bryan Boroughs, ICS’s director of legislative affairs, in introducing the ICS panel discussion, held Aug. 25 at the University Club just blocks from the White House.

Panelists commented on ICS’s in-depth 2015 report, The Effects of the Earned Income Tax Credit on Child Achievement and Long-Term Educational Attainment, by former Michigan State University researcher Michelle Maxfield.

In fact, a whole flourish of new research is showing the benefits of EITCs and other income-related supports on children’s long-term success, said panelist Chye-Ching Huang, senior tax analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington. One study shows low-income families’ use of food stamps during the prenatal year led to better high school graduation rates—18 percentage points, she said.

Children on Medicaid do better in school, are more likely to graduate from high school on time, and have higher school attendance than children from similar-income families that don’t use Medicaid, Huang said.

“We’re seeing these remarkable long-term changes in children’s outcomes and success,” Huang said. She recommended several key tax-policy priorities for states, including starting state EITCs to invest in children and families. Twenty-six states and the District of Columbia now have tax credits that build on federal EITCs.



States adopt and adapt the EITC to address local need, Brookings Institution.

Expanding EITCs may actually give government “more bang for your buck” than other popular early-childhood programs, including pre-K, argued Richard V. Reeves, co-director of the Brookings Institution’s Center on Children and Families. But expanding EITCs may not be easy.

Underlying the bipartisan support for expansions of EITCs, political leaders differ on how to go about paying for the tax credits and the purpose of doing so, Reeves said. President Obama favors raising taxes on wealthy Americans to pay for expanding EITCs, while Speaker of the House Paul Ryan favors cutting spending on other programs that help the poor, he said.

No matter how leaders proceed with the debate, Reeves recommends several issues to consider: First, policymakers set a specific goal for expanding EITCs—perhaps raising student achievement or improving child outcomes. “What is it we’re trying to do with the dollar here?” he asked, noting that outcomes may be over the long term, such as high school and college success rates.

Reeves urged that whatever measures are used to determine the impact of increased EITCs on families, they be based research, “or evidence-based policymaking,” not “policy-based evidence making.”

In his view, there are four possible ways to tackle race- and wealth-based education gaps in the U.S.: money (through EITCs or the minimum wage, etc.), services (pre-K, etc.), time (parental leave, etc.), and in parenting/family skills (nurse home visiting, etc). Different families benefit from more of one of these approaches than others, and policy should reflect that need. He added that he’s interested in home visiting programs to help families with early education, parenting and health care (ICS is helping expand such programs, including a $30 million expansion of the Nurse Family Partnership across rural areas of South Carolina).

Leaders should look specifically at child-care tax credits, said Angela Rachidi, a research fellow in policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute. These can be received as part of refunds during tax-filing season, she said.

A single mother with two children must earn $16,300 a year above minimum wage to earn even a modest tax credit, and people under age 25 don’t qualify for the credit at all. This happens even though one important study shows that children in lowest-income families can benefit the most in their achievement when families receive such tax breaks, she said.

“Right now, the very poorest children are left out,” said Rachidi, who lives in New York and served as deputy commissioner of the city’s Department of Social Services under Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Expanding EITCs for childless workers also is gaining attention. House Speaker Ryan has proposed expanding those credits to benefit roughly 1.5 million noncustodial parents, young adults who may become parents, grandparents or guardians, and to reduce toxic stress on young adults and their families. Some low-income Americans must help support their parents, siblings or play a role in raising children in their families, she noted.

Rachidi urged policymakers to carefully weigh the potentially more substantial impacts of expanded EITCs versus other policies designed to help low-income families—even including a minimum wage hike, class-size limits and pre-K programs.

The ICS-Maxfield study adds to “a really large and increasing body of literature that shows EITC does have positive benefits to children,” she said. “EITC has much more positive benefits for children than these other policies.”

More research is needed on how families receiving EITCs and their communities or states may see benefits in other ways, including the impact on whether to seek employment. But challenges stand in the way of expanding EITCs, she said.

Some federal lawmakers question the high level of improper payments families receive—not from fraud but a lack of tighter controls that other programs such as TANF already have. Solutions to that issue have been studied by AEI and could include rules changes on how families are structured and children are claimed on tax forms. National chain tax preparers usually know how to do it correctly, but smaller providers or individuals may not, she said.

Such credits also can encourage couples not to marry, which may not be wise overall public policy, she added. Another factor: expanding tax credits can be extremely expensive, perhaps costing $8 billion a year.


Alan Richard is a veteran national education writer, formerly of Education Week, the Southern Regional Education Board and others. He contributes to the Hechinger Report and is the board chairman of the nonprofit Rural School and Community Trust. Follow him on Twitter: @educationalan.


Findings from Pay for Success Feasibility Studies

With support from the Social Innovation Fund, the Institute for Child Success (ICS) has worked extensively with jurisdictions across the U.S. to explore the suitability of Pay For Success (PFS) financing as a means of improving child outcomes by expanding evidence-based early childhood interventions. We selected four jurisdictions through a competitive process and began our work with them in April 2015. We are pleased to release our feasibility study findings and supporting materials here, and summarize the results of our analyses below. We hope cities, counties and states interested in PFS financing, early childhood service providers, researchers and policymakers, funders and impact investors will benefit from the experience and analyses of these four places.

Diverse Children

Photo courtesy of the US Department of Agriculture’s Flickr Stream. Used under Creative Commons License.

Jurisdictions ranged from a small southern city to two states on different ends of the country, and no two programs looked the same. We have found multiple types of early childhood interventions feasible for PFS financing: child abuse prevention, preschool, and home visiting. What they did have in common were strong public/private partnerships; a driving dedication to improving life for families and children; and a willingness to think outside the box.


ICS partnered with the Department of Children and Families (DCF), the Office of Early Childhood (OEC), and the Department of Social Services (DSS) in addition to two local foundations to explore the feasibility of expanding Triple P, a parenting education and support program, using PFS financing. Triple P uses a public health approach and is the only preventive intervention shown through rigorous evaluation to improve child welfare outcomes at a county level. We found that it would be feasible to reduce child maltreatment and out-of-home placements for whole Connecticut communities by implementing Triple P with PFS financing.

Sonoma County, California

ICS found PFS to be a feasible way improve outcomes for Sonoma County’s children and communities through high-quality preschool. Feasible outcomes include: third grade reading and math scores; kindergarten readiness; and possibly reduced special education. Sonoma could feasibly serve 3,600 children over 5 years by utilizing PFS funding.

Sonoma County also explored an expansion of the Nurse-Family Partnership home-visiting program. Although NFP is well suited to PFS financing (demonstrated by its Pay for Success project in South Carolina) we found that PFS is not a feasible way to finance an expansion of NFP in Sonoma County, because the baselines for preterm birth, emergency room visits and other PFS outcomes were already quite good; NFP researchers felt that, given the county’s relatively small population, the program could not make enough of an impact on those already-low baselines to justify a PFS project.

Spartanburg, South Carolina

ICS partnered with the City Manager’s Office and the Mary Black Foundation to explore the feasibility of expanding early care and education programs through PFS financing. We found the implementation of a continuum of services for young children that promotes healthy families feasible using a modified Pay for Success structure; the continuum includes:

  • Home Visiting (BirthMatters, Family Connects, Nurse-Family Partnership)
  • Parent Education & Support (Triple P, Text4Baby, ReadyRosie)
  • Early Learning (Early Learning Centers supported by Quality Counts)

While traditional PFS is difficult to implement in small communities, Spartanburg could feasibly implement this continuum of services over a 5-year period, with the potential to serve 4,000 families at all income levels.

Washington State

In partnership with Third Sector Capital Partners, ICS worked with Washington’s Department of Early Learning and Thrive Washington to explore PFS financing as a tool for expanding a suite of five home visiting programs in the state’s Home Visiting Services Account (HVSA) – Parents as Teachers, Parent-Child Home Program, Family Spirit, Nurse-Family Partnership, and Early Head Start Home-Based. ICS led the intervention-outcome analysis and found that all but one of the programs (Early Head Start Home-Based) yielded outcomes that are suitable for PFS contracts. We assessed the readiness of 45 service providers using four home visiting program models across 25 counties. While NFP is the only program that currently has the capacity to expand under PFS (or other outcome-based contracting), the other three home visiting models are interested in outcome-based funding and could build the capacity to do so within a reasonable timeframe. The feasibility study found that a significant investment in time and resources is required for the HVSA to move forward with a PFS project.



The feasibility study process in these jurisdictions was eye-opening not only to the teams on the ground but also for the ICS Pay for Success team, and we seek to share these lessons through our ongoing work in the field. We were privileged to work with leaders in local communities who were envisioning non-traditional ways to invest in families and children, for the betterment of individuals and families. We continue to view Pay for Success not as a trendy financing strategy, but as a valuable tool to diversify early childhood funding and bring the sector into an outcomes-based framework committed to what works.

We encourage you to view the feasibility studies; to explore the templates we have created with SIF support to help jurisdictions begin exploring feasibility on their own; and to join our mailing list, where we will soon announce our next feasibility study competition!

The ICS Pay for Success Team

Is a Pay for Success Feasibility Study Right for You?

In August, the U.S. Department of Education announced $2.8 million in available funding for a Preschool Pay For Success (PFS) Feasibility Pilot program. These grants will fund feasibility studies for early education Pay for Success projects. State, local, and tribal governments are eligible to apply, with letters of intent due by September 12 and applications due by October 6.

The Institute for Child Success is thrilled by this new opportunity to explore financing for high-quality preschool programs.  As a grantee of the Social Innovation Fund, we have worked in partnership with jurisdictions across the country to conduct several feasibility studies on using PFS to expand preschool, home-visiting, and child welfare programs; we will be releasing the results of our first group of studies the week of September 12. ICS also conducted the feasibility study that led to the South Carolina Nurse-Family Partnership Pay for Success Project, announced earlier this year. pfs-steps

But what is a Pay for Success feasibility study, and why should you consider whether the Department of Education opportunity is right for your jurisdiction? A feasibility study is exactly that – a formal exploration of whether the PFS method of financing may be a good fit for your jurisdiction to fund an expansion of its existing preschool program. It is not a commitment to pursue PFS financing.

ICS uses a multi-step process to explore feasibility (more details are available in this memo). Those steps include:

  • Assessing your preschool program and determining what outcomes it achieves
  • Assessing the capacity of preschool service providers to serve more children
  • Developing a viable expansion plan and determining how much it will cost
  • Projecting the impact of the expansion on outcomes in your community
  • Conducting a cost-benefit analysis
  • Determining feasible PFS contract terms and financing structures

You can get a preview of the process by exploring the templates we have released as part of our Social Innovation Fund work.

The study culminates in a recommendation about whether PFS is a good fit at this time. While feasibility studies are a crucial starting point for a PFS transaction, they can also be useful even if the eventual recommendation does not support a PFS transaction. The process of conducting the study provides information about the outcomes of a specific program, assesses data needs, and considers the costs, benefits and practicalities of expanding the program. This information can help a jurisdiction assess its needs and map the future. If the goals of this project align with your current needs and interests, learn more and consider an application.

ICS welcomes the opportunity to discuss our experience in assisting governments exploring PFS to improve outcomes for young children with you and we are open to exploring partnerships with eligible entities interested in applying.
To discuss opportunities further please contact Megan Golden or Joe Waters.

Thinking Outside the Box on the Crisis of Early Educator Wages

By Megan Carolan, Associate Director for Policy Research

Early childhood educators and child care providers face low wages that hurt the future of the early childhood field, according to a new report from the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment at Berkeley. This report is the latest to paint a stark portrait of the everyday lives of early educators and the difficulties which will prevent early childhood from reaching its full potential. According to the new report,

“Early educators are among the lowest-paid workers in the country. The median hourly wages for child care workers range from $8.72 in Mississippi to $12.24 in New York. Nationwide, the median wage is $9.77. Preschool teachers fare somewhat better: wages range from $10.54 in Idaho to $19.21 in Louisiana. In contrast, the median national wage for kindergarten teachers is $24.83.

Nearly one-half of child care workers (46 percent), compared to 26 percent of the U.S. workforce, are part of families that participate in at least one public assistance program, such as Medicaid or food stamps.”

Consider that again: nearly half of child care workers participate in a public assistance program to make ends meet within their own families. We know that living below, or close to, the poverty level is stressful for families and can contribute to conditions that can make childrearing difficult, from working long hours to food insecurity to frequently moving. Yet, the workforce to which millions of American trust their children is expected to push these stressors to the back burner. This is particularly jarring in an early childhood system that prioritizes public investment for low-income families – children’s caregivers both at home and in their child care settings may be facing the same stressors.

We don’t have to guess about the impact these conditions have on early childhood professionals – research tells us. Stress and adversity can impact teachers’ physical and mental health, which can negatively impact their interactions with the children in their care, according to a 2014 report from CSCCE. Children who are not provided with appropriate support and sensitivity in the classroom have been observed to have higher stress hormones as well as anxiety. Low wages and job stability are clear sources of stress for child care providers – a study in California found that 57 percent of teaching staff were “somewhat or strongly worried” about economic insecurity, based on a 13 item index. Teachers who earned less than $12.50 per hour had significantly higher scores on this index. One study has noted that higher Environment Rating Scale scores – one of the most commonly used measures of classroom quality nationwide — in the classroom were correlated with lower aggregate worry scores. Or, as one early educator interviewed for The New York Times, eloquently remembered “meeting with a senator who told her, ‘You don’t get into this for the money; you’re paid in love.’ ‘Really?’ she replied. ‘When my landlord comes, can I just give him a hug?’”

Photo used under Creative Commons license. Flickr user Sarah Joy.

Photo used under Creative Commons license. Flickr user Sarah Joy.

Fixing this egregious wage disparity is complex and expensive, but the time is now. As we reported last year, a recent survey by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAYEYC) found that voters rank the importance of the work done by early educators alongside that of firefighters and nurses. When voters were asked essentially whether educator requirements should be increased before pay improves, or if salaries should be improved to attract teachers with higher credentials, voters were nearly equally split. According to CSCCE,

“Only 17 states have policies or programs in place to address the problem of low wages for early educators, and they still fall severely short:

  • Twelve states offer a stipend program to supplement wages, and two states (Louisiana and Nebraska) offer early educators refundable tax credits that augment earnings, but these do not fundamentally raise ongoing salaries of early educators. Furthermore, eligibility requirements and funding levels limit participation and constrain supplement amounts.

  • While 23 states require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree for public pre-K and elementary school teachers, only four states (Hawaii, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Tennessee) require the same starting salary and salary schedule for all public pre-K teachers as for K-3 teachers.”

The importance of pay equity is very clear in our technical assistance work with jurisdictions exploring Pay for Success. In both our first and second cohorts, ICS staff have met with child care and pre-K providers in jurisdictions that are looking to expand early childhood programs to understand not only local conditions but also the barriers to expanding. Often, providers are excited about the opportunity to provide more high-quality slots for children, but dubious that they can meet the staffing needs given difficulty they have in offering competitive salaries and benefits. We often hear this concern from community-based providers, who feel that qualified teachers are likely to take pre-K classrooms in public schools instead, where they are paid on public school salaries and access the same time off as K-12 teachers.

We know that fidelity of implementation is essential to a Pay for Success project demonstrating its anticipated outcomes, and this includes ensuring that providers are well-support. To that end, ICS explores possible strategies to address wage disparities in the jurisdictions we work with. Often, it’s feasible only to start with the type of small step policies the CSCCE acknowledges are beneficial, but not sufficient. In Spartanburg, South Carolina, for example, where we have helped develop a continuum of support for children from birth to age 5, we included pricing to implement the WAGE$ model – this model provides small wage stipends, twice per year, to early childhood teachers based on experience and continuing education. Evidence suggests the program has achieved its goal of reducing turnover, with a rate of 12% to 18% turnover statewide (compared to the 25% goal set by SmartStart for the program, and a national rate of 30%-40%). WAGE$ recipients also demonstrate progress on their education, and reported a 99% satisfaction rate with the program. Such efforts, of course, are not enough to secure economic stability for this wage force, but mark an important step forward in making sure teachers’ needs are at the table. Early childhood teachers provide tremendous value to our students and their values, as well as to our economies – we cannot afford to ignore their compensation.

Urban Institute Releases New Pay for Success Toolkit

The Urban Institute’s Pay for Success Initiative today released three new documents as a part of their Early Childhood Education PFS toolkit:

  • The State of the Science of Early Childhood Education and Pay for Success
  • Using Data to Inform Decisions in Pay for Success Deals
  • Early Childhood Education Outcome Measurement and Pricing

As the Urban Institute explains, “This toolkit is designed to guide jurisdictions and their partners through the core elements of a PFS project in early childhood education: the existing evidence for early childhood interventions, the role of data, the measurement and pricing of outcomes, program funding and financing, implementation, evaluation design, and an overview of the limits of standardization with this model. The toolkit includes a series of helpful features, including checklists, charts, and questions for consideration, to help direct and clarify thinking around the feasibility of pay for success to scale what works in early childhood education. Together, these briefs can help jurisdictions decide if pay for success is the right approach for them—and if so, how to get started.” urban institute

The toolkit was conceived by a working group at the Clinton Global Initiative America meeting in 2015 in Denver, CO; the working group includes Accenture, Bank of America, Enterprise Community Partners, Goldman Sachs, the Institute for Child Success, the Nonprofit Finance Fund, The Reinvestment Fund, Salt Lake County, Social Finance US, and Third Sector Capital Partners.

The briefs are useful in how they lay out a range of common questions and challenges in the growing field of early childhood PFS, from “What Is the Evidence on the Benefits of ECE?” to “What Types of ECE Outcomes Might Serve as the Basis for Payment in ECE Pay for Success Projects?” The document can serve as a good primer for those new to the field to begin digger deeper to when and how PFS can work for early childhood.

For those already working on projects in the feasibility study or structuring phase, the appendices may be particularly helpful – the working group team has include a number of lists and tables highlighting answers to frequent questions in early childhood PFS. The appendices may help teams avoid reinventing the wheel where expertise already exists.

Recapping the Social Impact Performance Advisors Conference

Last month, the Institute for Child SuccessReadyNation, and the Sorenson Impact Center hosted the Third Annual Conference of the Early Childhood Social Impact Performance Advisors in Denver. The event convened nearly 300 advocates, policymakers, researchers, and funders to discuss trends and developments in using Pay for Success to expand early childhood opportunities, and chart a path forward. ICS Executive Vice President has discussed the conference in the context of opportunities in the Pay for Success field in a new blog with our colleagues at America Forward.

The timing of the conference was opportune – the same week, the House of Representatives passed a landmark PFS bill that would provide more than $100 million in support for such programs, with $50 million designated for early childhood (learn more). This enthusiasm at the federal level was reflected in the opening comments from Dave Wilkinson, Director of the White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation, who noted the opportunities PFS provides for innovation: “We know if we don’t try anything new, we won’t improve,” he said. “The responsible choice is to try promising concepts on a small scale and roll them out gradually if they work.” You can read more about his comments, and day one, on this blog.

Dave Wilkison of the White House Office for Social Innovation.

Dave Wilkinson of the White House Office for Social Innovation.

For the full gallery of Conference photos, view our Facebook album

Day 2 kicked off with a high-level discussion of recent PFS projects in the early childhood space and a frank discussion of the challenges and opportunities in constructing such projects as well as a conversation about the perspectives of funders in existing PFS projects. The rest of the day offered the opportunity for in-depth breakout sessions on a range of issues, including the Evaluation and Research Track supported by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation. More reflections are available on our blog from day two.

Navjeet Bal (Social Finance), Christian Soura (S.C. Department of Health and Human Services), Roxane White (Nurse-Family Partnership) and Emily Gustafsson-Wright (Brookings Institution).

Navjeet Bal (Social Finance), Christian Soura (S.C. Department of Health and Human Services), Roxane White (Nurse-Family Partnership) and Emily Gustafsson-Wright (Brookings Institution).

The final day of the conference featured additional breakout sessions on PFS in early childhood, as well as rallying farewell remarks from Colorado State Senator Mike Johnston. Sen. Johnston is an advocate for PFS in the state of Colorado, and also understands that the importance of early childhood programs goes well beyond dollars and cents. He told the audience a story about his children’s love for a book about Helen Keller. His youngest child responded to hearing a line in the book about Keller being “deaf, blind and dumb,” by saying: “Daddy, Helen Keller wasn’t dumb.” Indeed she wasn’t, but she had lost the ability to speak, he said. “We are working to support kids all across the country that … have lost their voice,” the senator continued. “Give them their voice back.” More details on the final day are available in this concluding blog.

On Wednesday morning, before the conference officially kicked off, 17 members of ICS’s four PFS technical assistance jurisdictions (Orange County, the City of Tempe, the City of Evansville, and Tennessee) gathered for training and discussion in a pre-session. ICS provides this technical assistance as a grantee of the Social Innovation Fund – you can learn more about this work here. The pre-session included presentations from the jurisdictions themselves, an interactive learning activity that guided the group through the process of identifying PFS-suitable outcomes, and a presentation from the Nonprofit Finance Fund that provided details about a service provider training opportunity.  In addition, three of our past technical assistance jurisdictions joined to form a panel discussions about lessons learned, and what happens post-feasibility.

While the conference is ICS’s flagship Pay for Success event each year, we encourage interested parties to learn more all year round!

  • We encourage attendees to connect with those they met in breakout sessions.
  • The conference Resource Document contains links to recommended reading from our conference presenters. It’s a great guide for those who attended the conference as well as those looking for a primer on specific issues in early childhood Pay for Success.
  • See what others were talking about during the conference on the #sif4ec, or check out highlights in this Storify.
  • You can learn more about the technical assistance we provide, supported by the Social Innovation Fund, get up to date on all PFS projects in the U.S., and access templates to use in your own PFS planning.
The Institute for Child Success team wrapping up the Third Annual conference!

The Institute for Child Success team wrapping up the Third Annual conference!

Notes from a Fellow: Empowering Teen Moms

Notes from a Fellow: This is the third post from Jostin Grimes, a summer fellow with ICS through the Southern Education Leadership Initiative. Throughout the summer, Jostin will share reflections on his experience at ICS, thoughts on the field, and updates on projects. You can follow the posts here.

Greetings once again! It is crazy to think that I am already blogging for my third post for the summer and completing the fourth week of this wonderful fellowship. Not only have I discovered new topics that are associated with early childhood education but I have also found  strategies that nonprofits are using to challenge the current edu policy status quo. Being a part of the i(cs) team has given me the innate ability to analyze education articles and discussions through a critical lense. As the weeks progress I am beginning to craft my independent research that I will be presenting at the end of the fellowship. Conducting independent research will give me the necessary platform to critique and reshape current policies and think-tank organizations that focus solely on child success and empowerment.  

While working on my first policy brief which covered the current landscape of early childhood education, I stumbled across a topic that is somewhat of a taboo topic in America: teenage pregnancy. More specifically, the various services available to those who are with child. Often, young women who are pregnant are ostracized from their families and are forced to find alternative methods to provide for themselves and their newborns. The majority of the young women who are pregnant identify with the low SES category and have to utilize governmental subsidies such as Women, Infants, and Children Nutrition Program (WIC) and Temporary Aid for Needy Families (TANF, commonly referred to as welfare). Secondly, teen pregnancy forces these young women to place a hold on their current educational endeavors, future plans, and in some instances put a cease to their social life. Maintaining a healthy pregnancy requires the mother to spend a significant amount of money on food and medicine for herself and for her child, and to make a financial plan for child care once the baby arrives. The emotional and financial gap that is associated with being a first time mother can be stressful, but with adequate amount from healthcare officials and child care advocates this can be reduced.

This gap in education can lead towards a strain on a mother’s cognitive, behavioral, and emotional development, as well as employment opportunities. In turn, this strain can affect a mom’s relationship with her child, as well as her child’s future educational attainment.This absence of services and increase in teen pregnancy rates sparked the interests of Dr. David Olds, University of Colorado, who developed the Nurse-Family Partnership to address this problem.  This non-profit organization is a home-visitation service that assists first-time, teenage mothers (15-19 yrs old) in assisting them during the nurturing stage (0-2yrs). For teenage mothers who make 185% at or below the federal poverty level,trained and certified nurses assure a healthy delivery, maintain good health and child development,and provides the mother with a vision and goals for the future.  In South Carolina, Governor Nikki Haley is working diligently with private funders and organizers to expand NFP’s reach to more than 3,000 new mothers and children in the state beginning in 2016 through Pay for Success financing. South Carolina seeks to reduce preterm births and improve number of first time mothers that are served.

Learning about early intervention programs such as NFP has ignited a drive to question the current policies, services, and funding allocated to teenage mothers.How are teen mothers expected to raise a well-developed child when there are limited resources to assist with child care and development? Why is there a lack of family child care centers in densely populated urban areas? What are schools doing to educate teen mothers on ways to find proper resources for childcare? The reality is that teen pregnancy is prevalent with the majority of teens dropping out of high school due to pregnancy and early parenthood. Due to these circumstances high schools are experiencing exponential increases in dropout rates for teenage mother. Instead of belittling teen mothers, reformers, governmental officials, and school administrators should partner with health and early child care organizations to implement support systems and resources to provide to these mothers and families.

As a student of sociology, I was interested in observing how the self-efficacy theory (Albert Bandura, 1977) played a role in the structural composition of an early intervention service such as NFP. Bandura, a renowned psychologist and sociologist, provides us with a context in the relationship between behavior and achievement/outcome. For example, a mother will contact the Nurse-Family Partnership if they strongly believe that this will improve child development and school readiness. The work from committed nurses and social services through the Nurse-Family Partnership is another example of early intervention programs offered to families. 

Bandura quote

The fight towards equality for silenced and oppressed voices is on the rise – in order for this action to be successful there has to be a strong willingness to challenge and critique systematic components that target marginalized individuals.

“When we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard or welcomed. But when we are silent, we are still afraid. So it is better to speak.” -Audre Lord


Paving the way for expansion of work with young children

The final sessions of the Third Annual Conference of the Early Childhood Social Impact Performance Advisors focused on provisions that could be made in federal law and in developing Pay for Success projects to enable better services for young children.

Two experts on PFS-related activity in Washington gave the audience an in-depth update on federal legislation and programs that can support PFS programs.

The first place PFS emerged in federal policy was through the Workforce Innovation Fund through the U.S. Department of Labor. About $26.3 million was divided among different entities. The Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Justice are jointly using PFS to expand permanent housing for people transitioning out of incarceration, said Nicole Truhe, the director of government affairs for America Forward, a coalition of public and private supporters of social innovation.

Afterwards, the Social Innovation Fund was given around $14 million to support PFS projects across the country, and has used a significant portion of that to support projects to improve outcomes for young children, said Bryan Boroughs, the general counsel and director of legislative affairs for ICS.  ICS is a grantee of the Social Innovation Fund, as are several of America Forward’s member organizations.

A longer-term goal, Truhe said, is to show PFS’ value so that it can be included in formula funding streams within a variety of federal agencies. PFS first became an entitlement-related investment in the federal budget through the new Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. State governments can use 15 percent of funds under the law for various needs—now including PFS projects. Those funds could pay for program evaluations, technical assistance, and technology and data systems, Truhe said, though the implementing regulations will need to be enacted first.

High-quality early childhood programs are critical to a strong workforce in the short-term because they can provide excellent family supports for working parents.  In the long-term, quality early care and education prepares young children for school so that they can succeed in the workforce in the future, said Boroughs.

The new main federal education law, currently known as the Every Student Succeeds Act—which replaces the No Child Left Behind Act—includes for the first time a federal definition of PFS, Truhe said.  It also includes descriptions of feasibility studies and evaluations and flexibility within billions of Title I funds that can allow for some PFS program support. Funding under Title IV of the law for safe and healthy schools may be used to develop school-community partnerships for behavioral health or other needs that affect children beyond the school walls, she said. Legislative advocates are working with federal officials as they hammer out regulations under the new law, she said.

Bryan Boroughs (Institute for Child Success) and Nicole Truhe (America Forward) talks legislative updates, including the federal Social Impact Partnerships to Pay for Results Act (SIPPRA).

Bryan Boroughs (Institute for Child Success) and Nicole Truhe (America Forward) talks legislative updates, including the federal Social Impact Partnerships to Pay for Results Act (SIPPRA).

Unfortunately, PFS is not included in ESSA for early childhood programs, Boroughs said. But other pools of federal funds are developing. The most hopeful sign is that the House passed a bill on June 21 that would provide at least $100 million toward PFS programs, with half that amount specifically for programs that impact children. The details on the proposed Social Impact Partnerships to Pay for Results Act (SIPPRA) can be found here.

A panel featuring ICS’s own Megan Carolan looked at using PFS to serve the youngest children and those in special education.

Janice M. Gruendel of the Harvard Center on the Developing Child’s Frontiers of Innovation Initiative, discussed the latest research in early childhood learning showing the impacts of toxic stress on brain development. PFS programs shouldn’t focus on one slice of early childhood services, but should build a range of services that serve needy parents even before a child’s birth through developmental screening later in childhood. “Support the whole family in whatever way you can,” she said.

Jennifer Tschantz of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs told a breakout session audience of improving federal data on outcomes for children with disabilities that may be useful in evaluating PFS programs. The PFS strategy could lead to more early screening of children so they can get the services they need, and expand inclusion in preschool classes for students with disabilities.

Colorado State Sen. Mike Johnston, a leading advocate for PFS and early childhood in the state, told a moving story about his children’s love for a book about Helen Keller. He’s the father of twin 8 year olds and a 4-year-old daughter.

His youngest child responded to hearing a line in the book about Keller being “deaf, blind and dumb,” by saying: “Daddy, Helen Keller wasn’t dumb.” Indeed she wasn’t, but she had lost the ability to speak, he said. “We are working to support kids all across the country that … have lost their voice,” the senator continued. “Give them their voice back.”

“What can we do to find the resources to the kids who need them?” he implored.

Following Sen. Johnston, ReadyNation co-founder of Robert Dugger closed the conference by calling on advocates to help “millions of kids have their voice.”

“We have accomplished a lot, but clearly … We’ve got a whole lot more to accomplish,” he said.

-Alan Richard

Alan Richard is a veteran national education writer, formerly of Education Week, the Southern Regional Education Board and others. He contributes to the Hechinger Report and is the board chairman of the nonprofit Rural School and Community Trust. Follow him on Twitter: @educationalan.

Day 2 of the PFS conference: What to know about taking on a project 

Navjeet Bal (Social Finance), Christian Soura (S.C. Department of Health and Human Services), Roxane White (Nurse-Family Partnership) and Emily Gustafsson-Wright (Brookings Institution).

Navjeet Bal (Social Finance), Christian Soura (S.C. Department of Health and Human Services), Roxane White (Nurse-Family Partnership) and Emily Gustafsson-Wright (Brookings Institution).

The second day of the Third Annual Conference of the Early Childhood Social Impact Performance Advisors in Denver featured an array of experts on exploring feasibility, evaluation and other aspects of using Pay for Success to start or expand early childhood services.

Setting up these programs can be a large undertaking, involving multiple state agencies, dealing with the federal government around Medicaid reimbursement, political shifts, and governance, said Christian Soura, the director of the South Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. He described his state’s $30 million program to institute Nurse Family Partnership home visiting and related programs across the state. The best reason to try PFS, he said, is to build a financing bridge toward possible future programs in a state.

Before starting a project, make sure your community or state and your area of emphasis are right for this strategy, Soura said in the day’s opening plenary. “Don’t do PFS just to do PFS,” he said. “PFS makes sense for us because we hit the right conditions. … We’re working toward a more durable and sustainable funding model to sustain these kinds of services.”

Roxane White, the founder and CEO of the national nonprofit Nurse-Family Partnership, said it’s critical to know what a project can accomplish and cannot. “We’re for PFS, but more than that,” she said, the goal is to get needed services to families who need them.

The Brookings Institution’s Emily Gustafsson-Wright detailed how PFS, social-impact bonds and similar strategies are being used in early childhood services around the globe. There’s an education program for girls in India, an agriculture effort in Peru, expanding early childhood programs in South Africa, and programs to address low infant birth weight in Cameroon.

Some of the challenges Gustafsson-Wright described in other countries were familiar to U.S. conference attendees: financing, capacity, gaps in knowledge, lack of political will, the need for expanding access while stressing high quality, and more.

What’s holding PFS back? The undertaking can be complex and may involve many layers of government, financing and program decisions, experts here said.

“We need to get faster,” said Navjeet Bal of Social Finance. Knowing lines of authority and building strong relationships with political and budgetary leaders in the state are critical and can save headaches and time, she added.

What does the research say?

In one conference session, leading researchers in early childhood education described their work related to PFS—which could add to a relatively paltry evidence base that currently exists on how to make the most difference in young children’s preparedness for school and life.

Katharine Stevens of the American Enterprise Institute, discussed her recent in-depth report surveying the available research on pre-K program effectiveness nationally (available here: Despite her criticism of public re-K programs that she fears aren’t always effective and aren’t based on extensive research, she supports PFS as a strategy to develop and expand early ed programs that really work. “We don’t want to waste the opportunity to move things in a better direction,” she said.

At lunch, a discussion among national funders on using PFS to start and expand programs in an era of few major state budget increases for early childhood programs. “What we’re trying to do is influence the disruption in intergenerational poverty in this country, particularly among young people,” said Woody McCutchen of the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, one of the panelists.

Another session highlighted several PFS projects that are under way, and their early results.

Greg Williamson of Washington State’s Department of Early Learning said their PFS effort to expand home visiting programs may result in an overhaul of how all of state government uses data and evidence to manage many different programs better. “This could change the way we do state government,” he said. “By having better data, clearer outcomes, understanding of what we’re paying for, the philanthropic community in our part of world got interested. … They say it needs to be (done) across state government.”

Kellie Noe, of Cradle to Career Sonoma County in California and a local school board member, described in detail her county’s feasibility study to explore a major expansion of high-quality preschool. A report showed two years ago grave disparities between affluent residents in the county and low-income families whose children are prevalent in the local public schools. Only 36 percent of students show adequate readiness for kindergarten, she said, and as low as 4 percent of children in some schools read proficiently by 3rd grade.

The project may focus on serving cohorts of about 900 pre-K students in five communities in Sonoma County, she said. The system could fund preschool for families whose income is at 300 percent of the national poverty rate—because it’s expensive to live in the area, just north of San Francisco.

Billy Powers of the Sorenson Impact Center, who worked in the Westminster, Colo., schools, outside Denver, described in depth the feasibility study he’s leading to expand high-quality pre-K in the school district. The district has about 10,000 students in grades preK-12, he said, and about 70 percent of students come from low-income families. School districts in Colorado face strict limits under state law on how much they can raise local taxes, leaving many school systems unable to afford pre-K classes or other needed programs.

The Westminster schools looked to PFS as a possible strategy to expanding early childhood services. The feasibility study looks promising, Powers said:

He suggested several key questions for anyone embarking on a feasibility study:

  • What’s the need in your community?
  • What’s your proposed solution?
  • Who will implement the solutions?
  • What will success look like?
  • Who will verify the success and how?

Look for more blog updates to come, focusing on legislative developments in the PFS field and from sessions on the final day of the conference.

-Alan Richard

Progress happening nationwide as national Pay for Success conference opens

Advocates for young children gathered from across the nation starting June 22 in Denver for the nation’s largest conference on using Pay for Success (PFS) to expand early childhood programs.

The Third Annual Conference of the Early Childhood Social Impact Advisors launched its opening day with speeches from some of the nation’s top leaders in the PFS field. Rob Dugger, the chairman of ReadyNation’s advisory board, welcomed an audience of about 300 to Denver, by far the largest PFS conference yet.

Joe Waters, ICS’ own executive vice president and a leading advocate for PFS, opened the conference by calling the strategy a promising tool to catalyze support for programs to help young children. It’s already expanding resources for early childhood education, children’s health services, parenting programs, solutions for the homeless, and much more, Waters said. (ICS planned the conference with its partners, and is one of several technical assistance providers under a PFS federal grant. We have offices in Greenville, S.C., and New York City.)

Speakers noted that the previous night, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a landmark PFS bill that would provide more than $100 million in support for such programs, with $50 million designated for early childhood. (See our ICS blog post on the bill:

PFS—a strategy that allows philanthropies and private entities to invest in projects that will make a social impact for vulnerable populations—is the centerpiece of President Obama’s social innovation agenda, said Dave Wilkinson, the director of the White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation, in the opening conference plenary.

Why does PFS makes sense? It allows government to try innovations without introducing work across a grand scale that might not work, Wilkinson said. Massive public housing such as Chicago’s infamous Cabrini-Green Homes high-rise complex ended up being a misguided strategy, he said.

“We know if we don’t try anything new, we wont improve,” he said. “The responsible choice is to try promising concepts on a small scale and roll them out gradually if they work.” Even if a PFS project fails or needs adjustment, it “contributes to evidence base” and requires rigorous evaluation, Wilkinson added.

“We need to be funding more of what works and less of what doesn’t,” he continued. “It shifts government to an outcomes mindset. … We think PFS can help drive a broader transformative affect in government.”

Challenges ahead?

The next session focused on some of the challenges advocates in using Pay for Success to expand early childhood programs across the country. Sam Aigner-Treworgy, the director of early childhood policy for City of Chicago, moderated the discussion.

Libby Doggett, head of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Early Learning, said her agency will continue to support the use of PFS to develop high-quality preschool programs. She called for even more creative use of PFS, to expand access and quality of early education and for programs such as dual-language classes that help young children learn other languages.

Marcia Egbert of The George Gund Foundation in Cleveland described how her foundation has spent the past 18 months funding a child-welfare program that combines elements of early learning with efforts to help homeless families. PFS “offered that rare opportunity to do the very best kinds of interventions for the very most in need,” she said. It “helped us tailor a suite of innovations” around a local issue that needed to be addressed. “We believe passionately in the power of this mechanism.”

PFS allowed a large investment of capital up front “in a way that historically had only been used for bricks and mortar… instead for human capital” and serving young children, Egbert said. “We’re just not doing the work in early childhood fast enough,” she said.

In Chicago, the renowned Child-Parent Centers preschool (the subject of much important research in the early education field), is able to serve an additional 2,000-plus families using PFS, Aigner-Treworgy said. She noted that one challenge she’s encountered is in how to measure the success of the program.

The Chicago preschool includes the rate of its students who later qualify for special education services as one of its evaluation criteria. The goal was to help young children with learning challenges, speech and hearing issues, or other disabilities to get personal attention and referrals to the assistance they needed. Fewer children might need special education after those interventions. But some special education advocates feared children might suffer under such criteria if results were skewed to seem more favorable. They didn’t want children who needed special services to go without them. (Here’s a recent ICS blog post on that issue:

But Aigner-Treworgy said her city is working through those issues and going out of its way to ensure equitable treatment for children. The whole idea is to help them, not withhold needed services.

Will PFS’ impact continue to grow?

The next panel focused on more of the technical aspects of financing PFS programs. Megan Golden, a senior fellow at ICS and national expert on PFS, was the moderator. She asked the panelists how PFS for their thoughts on how it will change approaches to social problems in the coming years.

Jeremy Keele, the executive director of the Sorenson Impact Center at the University of Utah (one of ICS’ many partners in the conference, including Ready Nation and others) said it’s already beginning to change how government uses data. The promise of integrating data from different sectors—criminal justice, public health, behavioral health, education and others—can help fine-tune solutions, he said. “This concept is not exclusive to PFS” but “forces that data and analytics conversation the way nothing else does. It will help governments “to make better-informed decisions … with respect to how to solve problems for at-risk populations.”

A related effect could be “performance-based contracting” and “using the data that we collect today much more effectively to improve social policy,” said Jake Segal of Social Finance.

Rick Edwards of Third Sector Capital Partners agreed that PFS is changing how contracts call for evaluations of programs, and that taking that approach may be revolutionary. “Measuring (government) programs is going to become a norm,” he said. “That’s going to cause governments to change the way they work.”

Later in the evening, Jeff Schoenberg, an adviser to the J.B. and M.K. Pritzker Family Foundation, another partner in the conference, touted PFS’ potential to add massive investments in early childhood programs across the nation. Schoenberg asked: If Nobel Laureate economist James Heckman’s contention that high-quality early childhood education has the greatest return on investment for families and society of any public program, then why not expand it in every community?

Already, PFS has led Utah lawmakers to make their first-ever investments in pre-K programs, Schoenberg said.

Attendees then looked ahead to June 23 sessions that focused more on local-based efforts to use PFS for early childhood programs in communities across the country. Sessions also will focus on advances in evaluating PFS programs, how PFS programs link with services for special education students, and more.


-Alan Richard

Alan Richard is a veteran national education writer, formerly of Education Week, the Southern Regional Education Board and others. He contributes to the Hechinger Report and is the board chairman of the nonprofit Rural School and Community Trust. Follow him on Twitter: @educationalan.