Data-driven policies and programs aimed at expanding equitable access to early childhood education services require a holistic view of the early childhood sector in communities across any state. The challenge lies in the fragmentation of data on programs for young children and their families in most states, often distributed across multiple state (or federal) agencies and disparate, unconnected data systems. This lack of consolidated, coordinated access to data on the early childhood ecosystem is a common and recurring issue faced by virtually every state.
States are now prioritizing the development and implementation of Early Childhood Integrated Data Systems (ECIDS), which integrate previously unconnected data systems. These ECIDS enable states to build a more complete picture of how early childhood services are delivered, where they are delivered, and to whom. Early childhood education programs, including public Pre-K, Head Start, and state-funded early childhood education and care, operate within a mixed-delivery system in most states, each with separate funding streams and reporting requirements. These programs are often administered by different agencies even within a state, such as public Pre-K falling under a state’s department of education and early childhood subsidies managed by agencies focused on social services.
However, data from these diverse programs is stored in siloed legacy systems, leading to duplication and lack of communication between them. Data collection methods and frequency vary, making it difficult for users, even within an organization, to access the necessary information easily. The challenge intensifies when policymakers and data users attempt to utilize data across systems and agencies. Cross-system data integration becomes crucial for any state aiming to develop a comprehensive view of its early childhood ecosystem, including children, providers, and funding streams.
Building such a comprehensive view begins with identifying foundational use cases that facilitate wider access to early childhood services and programs for the families who need them. Siloed data, confined to specific agencies or programs, results in narrowly defined analyses and targeted deliverables. This limited approach prevents a systemic, big-picture view of early childhood services as experienced day-to-day by children and families, hindering states seeking an integrated, coordinated approach to enhancing the reach and impact of these services and programs.
Recognizing the importance of integrated data, state agencies, and the federal government, are prioritizing the development of ECIDS. The Administration for Children and Families (ACF) within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services supports states through initiatives like the Preschool Development Grant Birth through Five (PDG B-5). This grant assists states in establishing the necessary technology infrastructure for ECIDS, enabling them to understand challenges related to access, affordability, and equity in early childhood services at both local and statewide levels.
An integrated ECIDS connects programs, departments, and agencies, providing policymakers, administrators, educators, and researchers the opportunity to differentiate between accessible, equitable, and high-quality programs and those that are not. It allows for the comparison of performance data, better alignment of program goals, and improvements in access and affordability. Moreover, a well-designed, well-implemented ECIDS can help states systematically prioritize services for their neediest, most vulnerable children and families by eliminating information silos among programs.
This integrated early childhood data system offers comprehensive insights into what works and what doesn’t, enabling states to adopt a data-driven approach in developing and supporting high-quality early learning programs and services. It empowers policymakers and partners to make informed decisions about resource allocation to reach vulnerable children and needy families. Implementing ECIDS is a vital initial step toward creating a more equitable education system where all children have the opportunity to thrive.