The Child Care Business Podcast

Episode 20: Understanding what the Build Back Better Plan Means for Child Care, Plus Talking Accreditation with Storm Webb and Cindy Lehnhoff

December 01, 2021 Procare Solutions
The Child Care Business Podcast
Episode 20: Understanding what the Build Back Better Plan Means for Child Care, Plus Talking Accreditation with Storm Webb and Cindy Lehnhoff
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode, we talk with Storm Webb, executive director of the National Early Childhood Program Accreditation organization, and with Cindy Lehnhoff, director of the National Child Care Association. 

 These women have been on the front lines of seeing how daycares are dealing with challenges including the COVID-19 pandemic and are closely monitoring the Build Back Better plan being debated by Congress.

In our discussion, we talk about everything from accreditation and what the Build Back Better plan would mean for child care centers, as well as the expected increased number of middle-class families who will receive subsidies for child care, as well as universal free preschool, should the Build Back Better plan pass as it stands. 

Speaker 1:

[inaudible]

Speaker 2:

Welcome to the childcare business podcast brought to you by pro care solutions. This podcast is all about giving childcare, preschool, daycare, afterschool , and other early education professionals, a fun and upbeat way to learn about strategies and inspiration you can use to thrive. You'll hear from a variety of childcare thought leaders, including educators, owners, and industry experts on ways to innovate, to meet the needs of the children you serve from practical tips for managing operations, to uplifting stories of transformation and triumph. This podcast will be chalk full and insights you can use to fully realize the potential of your childcare business. Let's jump in

Speaker 3:

And nice to meet you guys. Storm it, storm and Sydney . Is that right?

Speaker 4:

Yeah. Nice to meet you too, Ryan.

Speaker 3:

Yeah. Excited to have a conversation with both of you. You guys. Um , so where are you guys calling in from today? Where am I having the pleasure to talk with you from?

Speaker 4:

Well, I'm actually in the , um, in the nega NCCA office in Annandale, Virginia, which is right outside of DC.

Speaker 3:

Okay, nice.

Speaker 5:

And I'm working from home , uh, in Mount Vernon, Virginia, right outside DC as well.

Speaker 3:

Nice. So you guys are in close proximity and talk to me about, so storm, I've got to ask this question too. Cause sometimes my curiosity gets to me. So the name storm is unique when I was looking at the initial podcasts , when we put this together, I'm like, I got to ask that question. Is there a story behind the first name or is it just parents loved it and went for it?

Speaker 5:

I wish I, I wish I had a really cool story. Everyone asks, you know, I was born in a hurricane and then there was a tornado and a flash flood. But sadly, no, when my mom was pregnant, she watched a soap opera and one of the main characters names was storm and she said, oh, that's it boy. Or girl, doesn't matter. It's going to be,

Speaker 3:

That is a name. Okay. I like that though. Yeah. It's definitely a conversation starter. I'm sure for your, your whole life is where did that name come from? Cool. Yeah. Cindy, you and I I'm Ryan. You're Cindy. There's not a whole lot of my brothers are Mike and Justin. So they're like generational names that are just like the standard. So I always love names that stand out. So you guys talked to me a little bit. I, you know, obviously we're going to spend some time on the podcast getting into, you know, state of the industry and the things that you guys are seeing and hearing. And I think it's going to be a really interesting perspective for our audience, just because of the amount of childcare providers and professionals that you interact with coast to coast, every size, every type, all different demographics. And I think that's a little bit unique in terms of some of the people that we get a chance to interact with. But can you guys talk a little bit about, I might ask you just to introduce yourselves and talk a little bit about, I don't know if you use the acronym NEC , but the national early childhood program. Accreditation, can you talk a little bit about what the organization does, how it got its start and kind of your role in the industry?

Speaker 5:

Sure. So, but creditation serves as two sides of the same coin. We do quality for both center and home facilities , uh, care facilities, and that, that does the entire program. So program-wide quality standards and recognition. And we've been doing that since 1991. Uh , we had the pleasure to add to our services to credentials in 2011, which are for administrators as well as teachers. So we are well , least internally. We like to say where your one-stop shop for quality, because we do both the brick and mortar as well as credentialing for your administrator or director. And it's really a business level course because we see a lot of educators who've been with the center for over a decade, go into the role of director. So they have all this really awesome knowledge of early childhood development. And working with children, lesson planning, working with their colleagues, that they might not have the best background when it comes to being business savvy, writing a budget, sticking to that budget, the role HR, all that jazz, what does it mean to be an LLC versus C Corp? And so that's what the national administrator credential really prepares them for taking their expertise to the next level in terms of running their business. And it's specific for early childhood educators. And then we have the CCP, the certified childcare professional credential, which is for teachers. And it's an at your pace, a credential with training or portfolio as well as an exam, how we do observations just to ensure that when we give you that certification, you're really going above and beyond the care of children, as well as working with technology, working with your colleagues and your parents. So it's , it's kind of the whole gamut as well with the NAC , but for that educator level.

Speaker 3:

Yeah. So are those two pieces, those , um, you know, the, the administrator credential and the teacher credential, are those necessary in order to be accredited through the organization or are those supplemental and add on? So like as a center, can I receive my accreditation through your organization without my director and teachers going through those extra courses? Or do they go hand in hand?

Speaker 5:

That's a great question. It's not a prerequisite to have the neck bus specific credentialing, but you do have to have a specific level of qualification in order to be a director at an accredited program, same with our lead teachers and assistant teachers. So even if you don't choose our credential per se, we still want to make sure that you are an expert in your field for your position.

Speaker 3:

Makes sense. And then are you guys storm is the organization my right to assume all 50 states coast to coast. And can you explain a little bit around, like maybe for those who are newer to the industry or aren't familiar with all the different, you know , avenues of accreditation, you know, I, you know, NACY comes to mind, I know there's other regionalized accreditations. Can you kind of speak to like the specifics of your accreditation as a provider? A lot of times is that the only accreditation that they would go through or would this be like something that is in addition to NACY or something local that they do as well?

Speaker 5:

So accreditation really is at the discretion of the program, which one you choose to go with because we want to make sure that the accreditation you choose matches your program's philosophy and how you want to reach those developmental goals for the children in your care, as well as your best business practices. So you really only need one or the other. Um, sometimes you may have to be quality rated in your state for your quality rating initiative system. Q R I S in addition to being accredited, most of those usually go hand in hand where accreditation will get you a certain level or ranking or points. And then you pursue your Q R I S to get to the highest level. Sometimes accreditation takes the highest level spot, so you just have to do one versus the other, but we welcome programs to explore our standards, which are available online for free, as well as the self assessment instrument, which is the manual. They actually go through and answer the questions on to ensure that they're meeting those standards. We don't like to hide our light under a bushel. We really want them to be able to make that choice and have the power to do so. So we don't charge any fees for our materials and also for crosswalks with other accrediting bodies. So you can see how the necklace standards may compare to NACY or early learning leaders , uh, cogni NFCC

Speaker 3:

'cause , all of those would be, I mean, the different acronyms. I know I love our industry for people that are new to it , that we all use so many acronyms and get used to them , but all of those different organizations, you know, in some ways, different avenues of accreditation, different philosophies, different process. And so, like you were saying as an individual program owner or center owner, you're going to look into and research, which of those aligns most with your philosophy of doing business and how you want to run your school in terms of quality standards. Um, and then I know this kind of maybe dovetails a little bit into the, to the founding of the organization, because I know in doing a bit of research, I think it was early nineties that initially kind of became its own entity, but it was birthed from NCCA. Correct. And so, you know, Cindy , I think I heard you volunteer a couple of minutes ago to take that path. Can you explain a little bit about the NCCA, what that organization's role in the industry is, and then maybe kind of how this , um, the, you know, accreditation piece stemmed from that and kind of how you guys work together?

Speaker 4:

Yes. Um, the NCCA had its beginning in 1987 and it was originally formed to be a group that represented states at the federal level. So in order to be a member of NCCA, it was actually a state association had to join. And that's how , uh, it was, it operated, there was an executive board chosen from among the states. And then there was a lobbyist and someone that helped with things that were coming out of the federal government that were going to impact how, or maybe not help , uh, childcare providers. And so at some point it star ported out early nineties, they did decide to develop their own accreditation process. And later in their, in their years of practice our existence, I should say , um, they actually sold the CCPA and that is when it became its own , uh, own organization. I happened to have the opportunity to work with both. Um, I was with lap petite academy , uh , for 36 years actually, LA petite became part of learning care group. And I know you're very familiar with it.

Speaker 3:

Another acronym we use a lot LCG, but yes. Okay.

Speaker 4:

Um , I had an amazing 36 year career. I retired from there in 2019, but because I had been an active board member in both NCCA and any CPA when the N CCA board came to any CPA , uh , they ask if any CPA would like to take over the NCCA. And so we came back together and , um , they asked me to be their , uh , director of the NCCA. I still also work with , uh, any CPA because it's a love and a passion. I am their policy advisor. So , uh , when they need , uh , someone that has actually worked to physically accredit schools, because that's one of the things that I was able to accomplish along with directors and district managers was to actually accredit over a hundred of LCJ schools , um , throughout the area that I worked in, which was predominantly a Florida in Oklahoma. Um, but again , uh, also helping other district managers along the way become any CPA experts and therefore work with their teams to get accredited. So now I am spending most of my time. However , uh, however, even though I am involved in any CPA on the advocacy arm of our, our triangle, if you want to call it or actually diamond, because we have any CPA, NAC national administrator credential, the CCP, the childcare professional credential, and then our advocacy arm, the NCCA.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, you got to , so basically what I take away from what you just described as you're terrible at retirement, cause you like , I retired, I spent 36 years in the industry. It's time for me to kind of have a little rest and relaxation and that didn't stick very long. It doesn't sound like, or somebody was really, really persuasive to talk you back into the , um, into the role you're in now either way.

Speaker 4:

Well, it started out as an interim position for one year and then COVID hit and there was so much coming at childcare providers. It just didn't seem like the right time for me to depart because I am so passionate about the essential individuals that do this every day and how misunderstood and how misrepresented they often are. And now we have the opportunity to be recognized , uh , in the industry as , uh , an essential part of not only families working families, but in early education and also in , in the economy. And unfortunately it took a pandemic to shine that bright light. And I'm certainly not grateful for the pandemic, but sometimes something, you know , really good comes out of something really bad. And we're going to , we're going to accept this , uh, opportunity.

Speaker 3:

Yeah. That, that theme, you know, it's so interesting, like all day long as we talk with providers and professionals and industry leaders across the country, our customers here at pro care , but just even on this podcast, as we talk to, you know, some real thought leaders in the industry that, that line of thinking and that thread, you know, is coming up over and over again, it's been extremely difficult. There's been all sorts of unprecedented challenges, but through that adversity, a lot of good is going to come. And you know, some of it we're going to talk about, hopefully on this show, I want to see if I can frame what you just described a little bit Cindy , if I would say it correctly. So is his neck book kind of the, the organization that says, Hey, we're on the front lines, we're interacting with individual owners, teachers, directors all over the country and hearing, you know, what's happening on the front lines in terms of what are they experiencing with staffing? What are seeing with, you know, state licensing. And then those trends are actually getting rolled up to NCCA and , and NCCA saying, Hey, we actually see some universal areas we need to go advocate for. And so now we're going to go push that advocacy at both the state and federal level. Is that, is that a fair way to summarize it or my, am I off?

Speaker 5:

No, I think it's a perfect summary of it. Absolutely

Speaker 3:

Cool. So, so let's let with that in mind, then let's rewind maybe like 18 months. I'm always curious. I don't think I've asked this question, you know , in a while to a guest, but do you maybe storm I'll start with you. Do you remember the point for you in early 2020 when you realized, oh, this, this COVID thing is actually going to be a big deal? Like, I don't know if everybody remembers the point in time where it became like, oh, this, this is real and this is big. Do you remember when that was where you were, how you realized it

Speaker 5:

And was at a board meeting? So March 4, 20, 20, 1 of my board members called and said, Hey, this COVID thing, is anybody worried about flying down to Orlando? And I'm like, no, no. One's really said anything to me. You know, we're, we're still meeting. And that was the last time I've been on an airplane. Uh , and we packed up our office March 16th and everyone has been teleworking since. So that was the moment that I know. All right , well maybe this will last just a little bit. And we heard from providers, you know, it's just a California thing, this just an east coast thing. And then our Midwest providers started calling us and said , um, I might need some extensions on my time frames . What can we do the work with you to ensure that we're upholding our standards in light of all these COVID issues that we're now experiencing, but we didn't expect.

Speaker 3:

And , and how did you guys, cause I think that was, it sounds like, you know, Cindy, maybe you, you kind of made the realization of the reality of COVID and the pandemic around the same time that March 4th, you know, so you guys did fly down to Orlando, it sounds like for your board meeting met all recognize , like, actually this thing is , is real and all kind of flew home and that was the start of the remote work. And I haven't gone back since to the office environment. Yeah. Yeah. I remember in our offices to , you know, broker we've got offices spread out across the country, but in Oregon in the office, I was in , we had the same experience. It was just all of a sudden like, Hey, everything's getting shut down. We're going to have to go work from home. And everybody was kind of like, all right, I'll see you in a week or two type of thing. And, and , uh, you know, as we know , uh, it was a little bit longer of a, of a deal than that. You were talking storm a minute ago. Like, as you started to hear from providers about asking for extensions and changes to your normal process, how did that force you guys to adjust, you know, your process and how you were interacting with providers? Was it just a matter of like putting a lot of stuff on pause? Did you guys have to completely adjust how you went about your accreditation? Anything that you can share about what changed for you and your interaction with schools through that period?

Speaker 5:

Our communications just went through the roof. Like we were already known for doing a lot of, a lot of support throughout the accreditation process. Like our motto internally and in every communication we share is provider friendly accreditation, because it is, I mean, it's an intimidating process you want to do what's right for children. That's why you got into this industry, but it it's really sometimes difficult to take that step towards accreditation. So whatever we can do as the support team behind you, that's what we're going to do. So we really made sure that any time we had a policy update, anytime we had a question that kept recurring, we put it together and shared it immediately with our accredited programs, same for the NAC and CCP. Thankfully we had an online mechanism already, a learning management software for our national administrator credential. So we still, we really saw a ramp up in that as well, which is , um, really fortuitous for the people that need that credential , um, for their, their state recognition as well as going through accreditation. Go ahead .

Speaker 3:

Yeah. I wanted to ask you on that. So actually during that time, like during kind of quarantine and during COVID you saw a ramp up and administrator credentials, people signing up for that course. Any , any idea why, like, I'm just curious, like the correlation there is that people have more time as , as enrollments were lower. Is that kinda what you guys think happened ?

Speaker 5:

I think there was , um, a trend towards, well, I , I think, I think it kind of is , is two two-sided . There was that Loland enrollments or closures of centers because of state regulations and restrictions. And then there was just no longer the opportunity for in-person coursework. So it was a great alternative for people who were still eager to pursue that higher level of education for them to go ahead and get that credential at their own pace online , um , using their cell phone or tablet at home in their pajamas.

Speaker 3:

Yeah. That makes sense. Yeah, you're exactly right. They , um , now it was a lot more people are aware of it. The technology was there. I couldn't go to a course in my local area or travel. And so, you know, the whole digital, that does make a lot of sense. And so a lot more communications for you guys during that period of time, obviously providing support , um, you know, for the schools that were , you know , trying to just navigate all the unknowns that were coming at them. Um, w what about at the, at the, like the state and national level , um, for you guys, Cindy, what was NCCA doing during that period of time? Or how did their role change or adapt through what we've all experienced over the past year and a half or so?

Speaker 4:

Well, we definitely , uh , where we're having lots of conversations with members about their, their needs at the time, because once you start reducing the capacity of schools are closing them as some states did. And those that didn't close, typically reduce the capacities. And then of course, we had parents that pulled out, they either got laid off, or they decided to work at home because that was offered. So even though the government actually state governments reduced capacity, that wasn't really a problem because parents reduced it for us early on. Well, once you start reducing capacity, the payments, the rent payments, or, you know, what would be a mortgage payment, you know, on a center, those are still all do . And people were afraid to lose their staff because ultimately we were already seeing staff shortages in qualified individuals working in this field. So they were concerned about having to lay off and reduce their payroll. And so that's when we started working with other national organizations to help promote the PPP loans that became available. And PPP loans were actually , uh , small businesses were targeted as, you know, eligible recipients of that money. And 93% of childcare providers in the United States are small business owners. So that was the first big deal that we worked to really push at the legislative level for our , uh , members and beyond actually , um, because we want, we wanted all centers that needed help to get it, and we were successful with that. And then of course the stimulus packages , um, became , you know, were put on the table. And so, you know, we started really working again with the , uh, our partners in Washington. NACY , um, you know, they are definitely a partner in , um , advocacy. We also work with the national women's law center in their early learning coalition and first focus and the , uh, the lobby committee that they have there , uh, to help legislators understand the needs of what it is childcare needed to remain viable, because it was really evident that the infrastructure that we had in childcare was fragile already due to very low margins. And so they needed help. And so we were successful in, in moving , uh, you know , legislation through cares act , um, they response and relief act. And then of course the big one, which was the American rescue plan, which has $39 billion in it for childcare . And we're still working on getting that one , uh , it's been funded at the federal level, but we're still working to be sure that it's passed on to our members at state level because not every state has reacted , uh, the way that we would have liked for them to do by getting a grant application posted so that people could apply and use those funds to continue supporting pain of rents and salaries. And right now our biggest issue is we do have people coming back to childcare, but we don't have the staff. We lost about a third of our workforce at the beginning of COVID. And we have not gotten them all back about a third of what we lost about a hundred of a little over a hundred thousand people that worked in this industry have not returned. And it's somewhat of a mystery actually.

Speaker 3:

Yeah. There's been all sorts of, I mean, conversations and , and theories around, like, why did that happen? I mean, there was, you know, obviously the stress of being in childcare potentially, and the pay, you know, has always been an ongoing conversation for teachers in the classrooms, but, you know, through the pandemic. And as you know, we've seen this reopening, so to speak, it's a theme that we hear over and over again. And I don't think anybody is, is, you know, excluded from it, whether you're a national chain with a huge presence or you're in the Heartland and a single site owner, there is a staffing challenge for everyone. Now you talked about , um, the rescue plan and the funds coming from the federal government. Cause I've heard this over and over to some states have taken those funds and have been really actionable around them, getting grants set up and finding shared service platforms to go distribute and find a way to distribute the money. And, you know, obviously I think there's a lot of conversation about using that to level up staffing and to close some of that gap. But for the states that haven't released those funds yet, is it, is it a bureaucracy challenge? Is it an administrative challenge? Like why aren't those funds getting distributed and any thoughts on how like providers could play a role in helping try to get those funds distributed or what can be done? Because I think that's a big, there's a big constraint now.

Speaker 4:

Absolutely. And I think that, you know , there's probably a little bit of bureaucracy, but it could be to just lack of knowledge of what the industry really needs. I think administration or administrative problems, there's social services is understaffed and where this money would be funneled through may. They just may not have the resources. They have to put together the structure to move this money out. But then to your last point, advocacy of owners, nothing works better than the constituents of state legislators calling, emailing and saying, we need your help. These are our issues. We are aware that our state received X amount of dollars, but we're not receiving them. Can you help us? Um, we have really focused on at the NCCA on educating our members and beyond how to do that in a way that gets results. We do , uh , we've done several webinars that have brought in advocacy experts from states that are doing well because they do have advocates , um, to teach those that, you know , do not have strong childcare associations are advocates on how to build relationships and to really get the attention of the state legislators on what is needed and why it's needed. And we seem to have accomplish that better at the federal level than at the state level .

Speaker 3:

Yeah. Which is kind of, you know, you're exactly right. The federal level there's awareness, obviously funds have been prioritized for our industry. Every state has a slightly different, you know, approach or speed to which they've kind of given providers access to those. But just as a real quick note, just practical note in terms of individual providers in states finding information about their state's resources related to , um, the American relief plan and those types of things at , I think the NCCA website is national childcare.org. Is that right? Am I

Speaker 4:

Correct?

Speaker 3:

Am I right to assume Cindy, are there resources on your website that individual providers could go find to help direct them? And certainly as being a member of NCCA that would give them access to additional materials and information, but a starting place would be your website. Yes,

Speaker 4:

Absolutely. And you know, a storm mentioned , um, earlier about the customer service piece to helping , uh , providers with accreditation. I personally answer my own phone as the director and that's because I want to be available to providers that maybe go to the website and maybe can't find what they're looking for, or just need someone to talk to and, and get some direction from on how to form a group. Even if you don't have a childcare association, how to talk to other providers and come together. So ultimately I really want to emphasize that I am available and you can reach me by contacting me either through the email on the website or the phone number on the website. I will talk to you personally and help you connect with maybe someone you're not aware of in your area. I'll help you look for someone to connect with because we want to help people understand this. And we're very lucky to have the early childhood education consortium in Washington, DC, as one of our partners, especially working through the AARP funds and also the bill back better , um, act that is proposed because , uh, we are working , uh , with them and they represent most of the large companies, but our pain is all the same and we need to gain together , uh, the funds we need for childcare. So we work with them and they're also helping with the state , uh , focus of advocacy ,

Speaker 3:

Uh , at the state level as well. And then w what do you think, you know, just kind of future looking and forward thinking now, in terms of, you know, what we've come through. I think, you know, there's an arguments though , or a discussion about, you know, where are we in kind of moving through the pandemic and what is the new normal sorta thing look like. But, you know, in terms of what this means for providers, as you guys look forward, does this fundamentally change the way providers, you know, fund their business, meaning, you know, you know, it's been, so obviously there's a lot of centers that are heavily subsidized and families that are receiving government assistance for childcare over the years. And then many that, you know , have been completely private pay funded through, you know, families paying their own tuition. Does this change fundamentally anything about the model of childcare moving forward in your opinion? And if so, any thoughts about what that is and some things that you guys see coming down the pike ?

Speaker 4:

Well, it's definitely, if the build back better act and specifically the childcare and the universal pre-K piece end up passing as they are right now, which would put $400 billion into childcare and universal pre-K, it's going to be a huge change because we are going to see more children receive subsidy . And that would include our middle class because there's a part of this bill is going to cap tall care expense for families that earn up to 250% of the median income in their community at 7%. So that's going to be huge right now, childcare subsidy is only funded through child care development block grant at the federal level. And we have been receiving just a little less than 6 million, a billion dollars for the last few years. It's only serving about 1.8 million children and only serving about one in six children that are actually qualified. So if we're going to go from a little less than 6 billion to 200 billion, just for childcare, and that's over a six year period, we're going to see a huge change for all pay providers. I don't think we're going to have too many people that will be just all pay providers.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, that's amazing. I mean, just those numbers to , yeah. That puts it into, into perspective for everyone. You know, one of the things that has come through all the changes over the past year and a half is the awareness of the importance of the industry and the government actually putting their money where their mouth is. So to speak in terms of funding that, to make sure all of these kids across the country have access to quality care. Cause that's a , I mean the multiple dollars that are coming into, you know, subsidizing families is, I don't know if it was like 80 times the number, but it's a huge increase and that's going to end up, you know, helping not just low income families, but like you said, middle-class families, which hopefully then what about, how does that then translate? And this is, you know, storm some of your, your side in terms of, okay, now there's funding for all these families, people have better access or ability to go pay for childcare, gets parents back to being able to work and really stimulate our economy and all the things that kind of work in , in combination. But there's still like the whole issue of like a lot of childcare deserts across the country, right? There's a real challenge with enough quality places for these families to put their kids. How, how do we solve that? And is that something that you guys I know from your side storm, you guys work on that by saying, Hey, we're going to help providers reach that level of quality that's meeting their community, where they need to be and providing great outcomes. How do we, as an industry go solve the fact that there's so many , um, there's a lack of spaces for kids across the country. That's something you guys are working on too .

Speaker 4:

Well, that's gonna , that's actually built into the build back better bell . It is increase access. And you're absolutely correct about childcare deserts, 51% of all children ages zero to six, live in a childcare desert, meaning that there are more children in that age group than there are actual childcare slots. So that is part of what build back better. And part of what those funds will do is to help stimulate growth in those desert areas. So that's going to , we have to put accessibility and staffing ahead of even subsidizing the , uh , childcare, because right now we can subsidize, but if there's nowhere to go,

Speaker 3:

Yeah, it doesn't do any good, right. It

Speaker 4:

Doesn't do any good. So there is an order to things and states will be expected to come up with a plan on how they will address each one of those areas. Should the build back better plan as it is written today , uh, is , is passed . And it will be a progression that will take place over over six years,

Speaker 3:

Okay. As , as they access those funds and as they roll it out and as providers, and hopefully what'll happen is more and more people recognize the importance of the space, both, you know , because it's mission-driven work. But also if we can get to a spa where, you know, the childcare business is a really sustainable business model that people, you know, really bright, strong entrepreneurs can come in and contribute to the industry too . And that'll help solve, you know , some of the deserts that we're seeing any, you know, from a standpoint of other things that you guys see, I know you had sent me an email as we were kind of , um, you know, just exchanging a few messages back and forth in preparation for this podcast, Cindy, that you were just explaining, there's all sorts of changes coming to the industry. Like, you know, maybe in an unprecedented way this last year and a half has pushed us into this kind of new season of the industry. It , anything else that you guys see or that's top of mind for you or that you guys are passionately working on, that we haven't touched on yet that , that you can bring forward to our audience?

Speaker 5:

I mean, I , I think our focus right now is just strengthening and revitalizing PCE. We need a unified voice to do that. You know , thankfully we are finally getting the funding we deserve after decades of underfunding through federal legislation. And I mean , I think, I think it's really evident in what has happened to the industry over the last 18 months, how little , um, respect our early childhood essential early childhood workers have received, then it's, it's from the owners down to, you know, the cook. So really working to professionalize every single one of those essential workers and make sure that they're all fighting on their own behalf. Because one of the aspects that we've really tried to emphasize in bringing NCCA back into the fold of Nakba is you have to be your own advocate. So we have a lot of flashlights. We went to a really amazing speaker , uh, at first focused , um, children's budget summit a few years back, and he spoke about being a flashlight and shining your light on the problems, but you also have to be the hammer and you have to be the one out there knocking on people to make change.

Speaker 3:

You're the hammer. Yeah . I was going to say, I was going to say if we were to pick the two personas on this call, I would say, so we have the hammer and the flashlight here, and it is , uh , a good point. It's so interesting that for so long, the industry fought to get enough funding to really go out and make sure families had access to quality care. And now it's almost like we have plenty of funding. We are finally getting money from the government that allows all these programs to operate, but it's getting it into their hands. And then, you know, overcoming the staffing challenge. Does, do you guys think like as part of your, your messaging and, you know, maybe what we would kind of define as value proposition and positioning, like as a school who goes through an accreditation with NEC, is there a way that that process helps that provider recruit better staff? Like just going through accreditation? Does that speak to, Hey, when I go to recruit staff, like the ability for me to say that we're accredited or we're going through that, does that give them access to being able to raise their tuition? Does it give them then the ability to pay their staff more? Is that part of what an accreditation would do for a school? Am I right on that?

Speaker 5:

Yes. Most providers who go through accreditation are eligible to access unique funding streams through their state. Most of which either are increases in your subsidy , uh, teacher scholarships , um, different types of , um, equipment rentals or equipment purchases you can make through those type of programs , programmatic scholarships. And I always like to think that you don't get into ECE to make a ton of money. We get any ECE cause you have a passion for children. So when you're out there doing that recruiting, you can say to those early childhood educators that you're looking for and you know, those perfect teachers that you're seeking, we always do what's right for children. And we bear this mark, this award that we had to really work hard and earn, then you're going to be part of that team. And you're always going to be part of that messaging that says to the parents in our community, we're here for the right reasons.

Speaker 3:

Yeah. I think that message resonates. We hear that a lot from some of the other people we've even had on this show. Um, you know, pay is always important. You know, obviously that's a big factor for teachers and people being able to make ends meet, but you know, when you get past that point, like, all right, what is the pay in this school? And even if you compare it equal pay from school to school, what causes a teacher to stay and that whole culture piece and being part of something that they really believe in , um, is a piece that a lot of consultants and , um, coaches are focusing on right now to help, you know, owners retain their staff and attract really quality staff. Do you guys like have a sense nationwide? Like I'm curious of all of the providers that are licensed nationwide, like what percentage of centers are actually accredited through some type of accreditation, like Napa versus those that aren't, is it, is everybody accredited or is it a small percent? Is it any sense of what that number is

Speaker 5:

No less than 10% nationwide. So it really is a strong recognition that you can put into your marketing for recruiting, not only those key staff members, but also your parents. That's, you know, we, we're always here to do what's above and beyond, not just our licensing, but these nationally researched and recognized standards for childhood excellence.

Speaker 3:

That's amazing. So nationwide of all of , if you took a hundred percent of centers that are licensed to be providers in their states , um, only 10% of those are actually accredited centers. What's the biggest thing. When you guys talk with providers, cause I'm sure you get people that reach out to you and look into the accreditation process and then, you know, they don't go through with it. Or maybe you guys are, you know , talking with providers a lot about the benefits of doing it. What's the, in your experience, is there, are there some main reasons why centers don't go through the process? Is it, am I I'm going to make an assumption time and cost , but are there other reasons why a provider wouldn't go through an accreditation to get that kind of stamp of approval?

Speaker 4:

Having worked with teams, district teams, many district teams in my career at learning care group. It's fear . It's fear because when I first started talking to my teams about becoming accredited and what that could mean to our families, to them as, as, as educators in the field, and then also working in states like Oklahoma, where I started my neg accreditation journey , um, over half of the children there lived in poverty and we had many centers that had been in business for a long time. So we had centers that were subsidized and needed some additional support financially to be a high quality center. So I had the opportunity to work with centers that really needed some additional funding to be the best they could be for children that were in a low-income situations, but then it benefited every enrollment, whether they were or were not, and helping those teams of directors and teachers, knowing that let's just take this one bite at a time and let's, let's believe we can over we can't. And if we go through the process the first time and we don't achieve our goal of being accredited, we didn't fail. We actually moved ourselves from point, you know, from one point up a little bit on the ladder. And I never ever took a team through this that we didn't achieve it by going through it the second time, or just maybe having to correct a few issues because that's the beauty of accreditation. You can go through it and you can, you know , be 90% there, but then you have to go back and get, you know, close that gap from 90 to 100% . And so we were always successful either the first time out or the second time. And when people accomplish that, the educators, the teachers in the school, the cook who , whoever, you know, the facility person, everybody walked taller. They were so proud of their accomplishment, not mine, but my goal was helping them pass the fear and helping them see that they could take little steps over a period of up to two years because you have two years from the time you enroll until you actually have to go through the visit. If you choose to wait that long.

Speaker 3:

So you have two year window to actually complete that whole process, essentially.

Speaker 4:

Yes. And some people go through it quicker than others, depending on where you're starting. I actually started with centers that didn't have any, anyone that had a credential or degree back. I mean, this was 20 years ago. And so it was the Nat credential, the national administrator credential and the childcare professional credential that, you know, we have access to , uh, that helped me get the staff and the directors ready to begin that process already have that. If you already have those individuals, it doesn't take two years.

Speaker 3:

Yeah. Cause then you're , you're starting, you have a little bit of a headstart, so to speak because you've already checked those boxes. When you say like, that's interesting. I wouldn't have thought that fear of the process or the outcome. When you say fear just for providers listening, is that I'm afraid that we might not get approved or I'm afraid of all the things that they're going to find that we're doing incorrectly. Is that what you mean by fear? And then maybe if, so, if you were talking to a provider to, you know , explain why they shouldn't be afraid of that and to embrace it, how would you address that with a provider that, you know , says, you know, Cindy, I we'd love to do it, but I'm just afraid for whatever reason .

Speaker 4:

Well, I, I have addressed it with, with providers and want to , you know, and so I usually start out by saying, it's there , they're there , it's the fear of failing. So tell me exactly what you're afraid of. Have you gone through and read the standards as storm pointed out? We actually put our standards out there before we ask you to pay for anything. And, you know, have you read through the standards? Because that was what I did in the very beginning. When I decided we were going to do this and I had LCGC backing , uh, I , we went through and we read it and we highlighted the areas that we felt we weren't strong enough on. And then we put together plans to say, how do we get, you know, how do we make this an area of strength when it's not currently where we're meeting the standard. And ultimately if you narrow that down, then it doesn't seem so big. And that, that is actually where I advise people to start. And then when you get to that point that you feel like these are the things that you are going to struggle with, then we can take them again, one piece at a time. And we actually involve our staff. There's a survey , uh, that is a staff survey that any CPA provides to say, you know, to give them the opportunity to say, where do, where can we improve? So we can meet this goal. We also asked parents in a survey, what is it that we need to do to improve in specific areas? So the surveys are very, very helpful, but most directors are already working, you know, even before pandemic, the pandemic directors work 10 hours a day, five days a week. And sometimes, you know, on the weekends to catch up on things that they needed to do. So it was like, how much more time can I, you know, put into this, but they also have to realize it's a team project and they have to be strong leaders to help their individual team members feel like they can accomplish the things that are being put before them.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, I like that. And then, like you said, you know, working through that, you have a lot of experience to be able to share that through that process, the amount of pride and the amount of quality and the amount of like, you know , you know, pride of ownership, so to speak that that gives you as you kind of get that certification. And then ultimately, like we all talk about at the end of the day, we're all doing this for the same reason, like the outcomes that, that affords the families and children and your care and the quality of those outcomes and investing in this next generation is why you're in business. And so that obviously levels up as part of this process, is there last question on the accreditation piece. And I want to be respectful of everybody's time too , once you're accredited. So, you know, center gets NEC accreditation, they meet all the benchmarks, they receive that seal of approval. What's the ongoing process. Is there like an annual audit and ongoing process to make sure they maintain those standards. And what does that look like? That might be a question for you storm.

Speaker 5:

Yeah. Great question. So we have a three year or term and at the first , uh, and second anniversary term, we require what's called an annual report. And it's a summary of your changes in staff and overview of your staff training because continuing education is part of a key standard that we have is we always want your staff to be striving, to continue to meet those high quality expectations of those children's outcome, as well as changes in enrollment and a nominal fee. So we try to keep, we've not increased our fee structure in over a decade where in doing a , a review of our rates compared to other accrediting bodies, even when you look at the different award periods, for example, there's other organizations that have five-year award terms when you add up all their fees. But thankfully we still come at the most competitive because Nakba was formed by owners or owners, then our standards and our philosophy, our policies and principles are always shaped around the provider success. So we want to give you the tools that you need to walk your staff through each step, because staff buy-in is one of the secrets to accreditation that and picking the right accreditation. Those are the top two things that I would recommend to everybody really do your research before you embrace this process to find the right accrediting body for your program, and then start it off with your staff meeting, you know, each week that you have, or the memos and get that staff buy in . Because although we are looking for that really excellent outcome for children, there is that incentive for the staff that we're going to get this funding. And it's going to come back to you guys in the form of not only the recognitions or this award, but thankfully

Speaker 3:

Yeah. Which, which , um, which resonates for sure. I mean, and that's super. So if people did, you know, just, you know, as we kind of wind up and this is like extremely helpful, because I think, you know, it's probably needs to be an ongoing conversation, even for our audience to, you know, continue to tap into what you guys are hearing and seeing and let you continue to share, you know, some of the things that you're finding to be helpful for providers, but as of right now, like if anybody who's listening to our podcast wanted to find out more information about the accreditation arm about the teaching , um, credentialed or the admin credentials or the teaching credentials, as well as what you guys are doing on the advocacy side , um , Cindy with NCCA, how , how can people find your organizations and get some more information about what you guys are doing?

Speaker 5:

So for a neck book creditation, you can find us online@wwwdotnecpa.net, and that's Nick papa.net . Now you can email us any cpa@anycpa.net. We're always available to answer questions, send you the PDFs. We known, you know , directors don't have extra time to go hunting. So let us hunt for you for those resources. And then Cindy.

Speaker 4:

And then of course we have national childcare.org, and you can also reach NAGPRA and neck , um, from our website because there's a click, you can do a click and go right to neck or neck and CCP, because again, we work together to accomplish our goals. And if I could leave a thought with anyone listening, whether you're a working parent or a non-working parent wanting good quality early education for your child, as well as childcare. And if you're a business that needs to have good employees and good employees that have children need good, great childcare. And I would say, please, don't be silent. You can join us and call your legislators. And right now the focus would be to call your federal legislators, especially your senators, because this is where the bill is at right now. And it is being debated and it is being altered as we speak. And it will go for a vote in the next couple of weeks. So whoever you are in the United States right now, whether you're a parent, a business owner of other businesses or a childcare business owner, speak up now for childcare and early education. Because having lived in Oklahoma, where we have a very high population of native Americans, I learned many years ago that an old Indian wisdom is what we do now affects the next seven generations. So what we need to do right now to positively affect the next seven generations is to get the support that the childcare infrastructure needs to thrive for our families in the United States.

Speaker 3:

Uh , a fantastic way to, to end the session. I just want to ask one last question on that. Uh , Cindy, for providers, for parents, for individuals that are reaching out to their, you know, federal senators that , you know, the , the legislator in their states, when you say, make your voice heard specifically, they're saying, Hey, we want you to be aware that this is important and we want you to vote to fund our industry. I mean, that's kind of a generalization, but is that kind of the message people should be relaying to their senators?

Speaker 4:

Yes. And actually we have been very active in social media , uh, both in Facebook , uh, 3m and also on , uh, oh , uh, I'm , I'm, I'm stumbling and LinkedIn, all of them, I'm not the technology person, but we have been putting out messages that with a , a quick click, you can go right to your Senator and leave them a message in the form of an email that will go directly to them. Uh , so we're trying to make it really easy for anyone that following us on social media. And also we will be putting out something in the next day or two , uh, both email to everybody that we have an address for and posting on our national childcare.org website and in social media, a new instruction of how to contact your us Senator on build back better.

Speaker 3:

Excellent. I love it. And I know at the beginning, I let you guys introduce yourself. I'm going to really quick just to make sure our audience knows, has been speaking in this , um , session with Cindy Linhof , who was the director of the national childcare association and storm web , who is the executive director of the national early childhood program accreditation organization. So ladies appreciate both of you joining us. I know you're both really busy, appreciate the work you're doing in the industry, and , uh, hopefully we'll talk with you again soon. Okay.

Speaker 4:

Our pleasure, Ryan, and thank you and your team for all you're doing as well. Absolutely. Yes. Thank you for supporting , uh, childcare businesses with , uh , ProCare . We appreciate being asked to the podcast today. Thank you.

Speaker 3:

Absolutely. You bet.

Speaker 2:

Thank you for listening to this episode of the childcare business podcast, to get more insights on ways to succeed in your childcare business, make sure to hit subscribe in your podcast app. So you never miss an episode. And if you want even more childcare business tips, tricks and strategies, head over to our resource center@procaresoftware.com until next time.