Case Study Details

K-12 education is a highly regulated space filled with examples of collaboration, including team teaching, cradle-to-career collective impact projects, and principal learning cohorts. But, afterschool and early childhood programs, a much less regulated space, also play a vital role in educational outcomes. High-quality afterschool and early childhood programs are associated with better educational outcomes, lowering the dropout rate, and narrowing the achievement gap. These programs also play an essential role in workforce participation because they offer high-quality childcare options for working parents.

Sustained collaboration is an underutilized tool to build the capacity and quality of out-of-school and early childhood education programs. But one innovative collaboration in Dallas, TX, demonstrates how a shared service model help provider address one of their most pressing issues: locating and retaining high-quality staff. In 2018, Dallas Afterschool and Early Matters Dallas began a process to investigate how out-of-school and early childhood providers could work together to solve this issue.

Early Matters Dallas and Dallas Afterschool began investigating these challenges in programs affiliated with their respective organizations. For example, Dallas Afterschool worked with Inspire, Inc., a nonprofit consulting firm that uses consultants from Bain, Deloitte, CY Parthenon, and L.E.K. They interviewed out-of-school-time employees and found two key issues: role mismatch and poor employee experience. Role mismatches occur when the role lacks sufficient or suitable hours to meet their needs. A lack of support and insufficient coaching led to a poor employee experience. The report suggested that these two experiences explained addressable turnover.

After receiving the report, the consultants suggested that Dallas Afterschool have a conversation with early childhood providers, because many of the issues were very similar. Christina Hanger, former CEO and current advisory council member of Dallas Afterschool explained,

“As we started to compare notes, they are exactly the same issues at the foundation. There are differences because Texas highly regulates early childhood education, and out-of-school time for kids above the age of 5 is like pretty much the Wild West. So, we do have some differences. But the basic pay structures and retention challenges and recruiting challenges were the same. So that’s how we started talking to each other, and then the Better Together Fund came up. And so, then we thought, could we do some things together.”

Developing the Shared Service Model

Dallas Afterschool and Early Matters Dallas applied for a seed grant to the Better Together Fund, a member of the Sustained Collaboration network. The grant was to explore how they could work together to solve addressable turnover. Brittani Trusty of the Better Together Fund describes that initial application.

“Low-cost and free out-of-school time providers are exempt from our state licensing requirements in Texas. Dallas Afterschool was already working with these out-of-school time and early childhood education groups because they do training. They had learned that a lot was having a hard time maintaining quality staff just because of the nature of the work. It was part-time. It’s low income. So, and what was really exciting for us is that no other agency was focused on staffing out-of-school time providers and early childhood education programs.”

Trusty noted that equity was a crucial consideration in the granting process because kids in low- or no-cost programs deserved high-quality instruction and stable connections with staff. The Fund awarded the group $60,000 to explore the initial collaboration.

With the seed grant money in hand, the group contracted with Errika Flood-Moultrie, Founder and CEO of Connections Multiplied. She began a feasibility study to determine the appetite for different services.

“I spent time interviewing some of the out-of-school time and early childhood education programs CEOs and program directors to find out 1. What is it that people would need? 2. Would this be something that you’d be interested in? And 3. How much could you afford to be able to pay to be able to do the work?”

These early conversations became the basis for planning a shared service agreement.

After the initial interviews, a group of early childhood and out-of-school providers reviewed several possibilities, including substitute teachers and a full staffing model. Lisa Marshall, Vice President of Programs for Readers to Leaders, recounts those early meetings. “It wasn’t exactly a focus group, but you could call it something akin to a focus group or many focus groups. And then Dallas Afterschool took that feedback and those ideas, and they developed the Early Childhood and Out of School Time (ECOST) theory.”

An Evolving Service Model

In 2019, after the ECOST model was developed, Dallas Afterschool applied for and received an implementation grant of $200,000 from the Better Together Fund. The award is among the highest dollar projects the Better Together Fund has supported. The implementation grant would create a staffing agency for out-of-school time. The initial cohort of 7-10 agencies would pilot the program for the first year.

During the implementation phase, Dallas Afterschool also found an important partner, GEX Staffing Agency. According to Flood-Moultrie, the staffing agency was an essential strategic partner because “they had worked with Dallas Afterschool before, so that they could recruit their camp staff during the summer, and they had worked with some of the out-of-school time providers as well.” GEX Staffing Agency had a pool and understood the space. In addition, they had a certification track and could already do the necessary background checks. In 2019, 165 staff members were placed in the program.

But a great plan doesn’t always survive implementation. As Marjorie Murat, the CEO of Dallas Afterschool, put it, “That’s what happens during the implementation phase. You just don’t know what you’re going to get.” One of the key lessons was that the minimum wage for providers needed to be at least $15 an hour. But to retain employees, $20 an hour made them much more competitive. They received some funding to supplement the salaries of ECOST-placed staff so that the agency would pay $15, and ECOST would pay the other $5. They realized that while out-of-school providers could move up to $20 per hour, many early childhood providers could not. Murat explains,

“The majority of those employed in the early childhood sector are full-time employees and their hourly range is $10-$13/hr. Placing someone at a center at $20/hr would especially raise concerns amongst their peers. It worked well for the out-of-school time sector because many of those folks are part-time.”

Because the Early Childhood providers had different needs, the group received another grant focused on workforce development. Early childhood providers could receive tuition reimbursement. This model turned out to be a better fit after COVID-19 changed the field once again.

After COVID, there was a dramatic shift in what agencies needed. Murat reflected on their new direction.

“We’ve successfully adapted, shifted, and aligned ourselves with the current demands of the out-of-school time landscape. I’ve been proud that we were able to say: ‘This model works but why have some of our partners not embraced the opportunity to engage in placing individuals, despite this available resource? How do we make this different, so that they can currently invest in the people they have already in the field instead of us (Dallas Afterschool) and/or staffing agency bringing on somebody new?’”

This pivot has meant the development of a new model for the ECOST program, the workforce fellowship program. The program helps current employees pursue or further a career in childcare services. They offer reimbursement for educational expenses and financial literacy training. In addition, they offer retention bonuses and a medical savings card.

Last year, ECOST had 85 professionals placed in the program. And they were able to help out-of-school agencies retain employees, moving their retention numbers from about 50% to 76% through the program. Retention is essential for providing high-quality out-of-school instruction and developing relationships with kids. ECOST demonstrates how one sustained collaboration model moved the needle through a shared service model.