On Dec. 10, 2019 the Savannah Economic Development Authority Board of Directors unanimously approved the Workforce Initiatives Fund. The fund, in the amount of $375,000, will be used to advance targeted workforce solutions. The catalyst for this fund and first use will be to help licensed child care facilities in Chatham County become Quality Rated through capital improvement mini-grants.
The fund was created in direct response to SEDA’s recently released strategic plan, “Propel Savannah,” which identified the number one concern of local employers as the availability and quality of workforce as well as the need for affordable quality child care centers with flexible schedules. The fund is also a response to Federal and State mandates that require all licensed child care centers to be Quality Rated by December 31, 2020, in order to accept children who require subsidized tuition. These children include all of those in foster care, children with special needs, and children living in poverty. In addition to enhanced curriculum and professional development standards, there are physical standards that are required to maintain compliance as a licensed child care center and to be Quality Rated.
“The Savannah Economic Development Authority Board of Directors and staff recognize that the availability, as well as the quality of workforce can be impacted by the presence of quality child care centers in a community,” said SEDA Board of Directors Chairman Kevin Jackson. “Legislative changes led to an issue where SEDA can step in and fill an unmet need. We feel that the Workforce Initiatives Fund can make a direct and immediate impact in assisting local child care centers on the physical requirements of becoming Quality Rated. We hope that this initiative encourages others to explore ways in which they too can impact early learning issues.”
The recommendation for the Workforce Initiatives Fund came from the SEDA Workforce Group, which is comprised of several SEDA board members and staff.
In partnership with Child Care Resource & Referral of Southeast Georgia at Savannah Technical College (CCR&R), the agency tasked with providing technical assistance and other supports to help providers become Quality Rated, the SEDA Workforce Group developed a process to estimate the capital needs of both Child Care Learning Centers and Family (home-based) Child Care Learning Homes. It was determined that an estimated $310,000 would address the minor capital improvement needs for 115 licensed centers in Chatham County that were pursuing Quality Rated with CCR&R at the time of inquiry. Additional funds would allow for that caseload to grow. The Savannah Economic Development Authority hopes the announcement of this fund will encourage additional centers to pursue Quality Rated.
Those 115 centers represent a license capacity of 3,556 children, though the total impact is exponential since the curriculum enhancements that come along with Quality Rated would benefit all enrolled children year after year as new students enter the programs. Child care providers could apply for min-grants to cover capital improvements including shelving, flooring, playground surfaces, building repairs and fence repairs among other improvements.
Executive Director for the CCR&R in Southeast Region Melissa Cole said, “We are excited to have SEDA support and further the work we are doing to encourage more child care centers in Georgia to become Quality Rated. Having more Quality Rated centers will have both immediate and long-term benefits to the availability and quality of workforce in this region.”
In a study titled, Early Childhood Programs as an Economic Development Tool: Investing Early to Prepare the Future Workforce, Timothy Bartik, a Senior Economist with the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research explains, “For every $1 spent on high-quality early learning programs, $8 to $16 is returned to society, largely through reduced future costs of crime and government assistance.”
“If child care centers fail to become Quality Rated, Savannah could lose many, much-needed subsidized child care funds and it could have an immediate disruption to families and people’s ability to work. Long term, it could impact a child’s readiness for the school environment. We feel the fund’s return on investment to our community will be ten-fold,” said Jackson.
Jackson went on to thank the SEDA Workforce Group and community partners that have been involved. “The SEDA board members and staff who have worked on this initiative have really jumped in to find solutions and opportunities for our community. I would also like to thank Savannah Technical College and Coastal Georgia Indicators Coalition for shedding light on the specific needs. I truly appreciate all their efforts.”
The Savannah Economic Development Authority will continue to partner with CCR&R and a yet to be named organization to administer and distribute the grants in 2020.