By Christine Johnson-Staub, Senior Policy Analyst, Child Care and Early Education-CLASP
In April, CLASP colleague Stephanie Schmit and I had the pleasure of attending the Smart Start Oklahoma Conference, and presenting on the topic of financing partnerships. I know financing is not the most popular topic in the early childhood field. Most of us are in this for the kids and families, and we would rather talk about child development than dollars. And yet, when it comes to serving children and families the most common challenge is money. That’s why I love putting the topic on the table – getting it out in the open where we can talk about it honestly and strategically.
We at CLASP have traveled far and wide to talk about our work on financing partnerships for comprehensive early childhood programs, and everywhere we go we hear new perspectives and learn new things, ranging from a community using an unexpected public funding stream in an innovative way to administrative policies that help manage the challenges of layering funding streams.
While in Oklahoma, we had yet another new conversation. It was near the end of one of our presentations, and we were talking about our financing worksheet – a tool in the appendix to Putting it Together: A Guide to Financing Comprehensive Services in Child Care and Early Education. As usual, we suggested that the worksheet is a good tool to bring to the table for planning, and as a follow-up we asked a simple question – what kind of “tables” do you all sit at in your communities?
The responses in the room were rich and detailed. Participants talked ab
out tables where they had been for 20 years and for two years. Tables built around specific funding streams, and tables with no funding at all. Tables that were state-wide, and tables in smaller communities and neighborhoods. And as everyone talked we realized that finding the right table has to happen at the beginning of the financing discussion, not the end. Because financing partnerships are built on relationships, and just like our families benefit from being around the table for dinner, our community partners benefit from being around the table to talk about common needs, common goals, and collaborative solutions. It is from the relationships we establish and nourish at those tables that creative and innovative financing solutions will emerge.
So next time you’re thinking about options for financing the important work you do, start at the table. Look around at the colleagues who’ve been sitting there with you for years, but don’t be afraid to invite new people to your table too. And if you don’t have a table, create one and set it in the most welcoming way. Coffee and cookies won’t hurt either. And if you need a conversation starter to get you going, visit the CLASP web site for the financing guide and worksheet, and feel free to give us a call to help you get started. We’re always eager to share what we’ve learned – and to learn from the great work of so many across the country whose hearts are with children and families but who have to think about financing every now and then!