No Small Thing: Addressing Systemic Inequities in Early Childhood Education in Kansas City

No Small Thing: Addressing Systemic Inequities in Early Childhood Education in Kansas City

Research Type: Early Care and Education
Published: 2023

For decades, the early childhood education (ECE) system has been in crisis. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, the challenges of the system have only been exacerbated. With our local partners in Kansas City, IFF conducted a regional analysis of the ECE system in Clay, Jackson, Johnson, Platte, and Wyandotte Counties to better understand the current landscape and to identify ways that it can be improved. From 2020-2022, IFF analyzed data and engaged families, ECE professionals, and local stakeholders and advocates to learn about their experiences. This analysis provides a snapshot of a complex regional ECE system that spans five counties and two states and provides insights that can be used to help create meaningful change for children and families.

We learned a lot about local families who struggle to find and afford child care, confusing and complex child care subsidy requirements and application processes, and persistent racial and economic disparities affecting access to high-quality child care.

Our analysis, which was funded with generous support from the Durwood Foundation and the Hall Family Foundation, revealed:

  • Only about half of the children in the region had access to an ECE slot in their county.
  • Between early 2020 and late 2021, there was a substantial loss of affordable child care options.
  • Access to ECE is inequitable across the region.
  • The cumbersome and confusing subsidy process often prevents families from applying and providers from participating.
  • Even when families do receive financial assistance, they are still expected to contribute an enormous amount of their income to pay for their share of the cost, which still falls short of covering the true cost of care.

A variety of near- and long-term strategies are recommended in the report to build a more equitable ECE system that supports providers and prepares children for lifelong success – focusing on the ECE workforce, the affordability of ECE services, and coordination between overlapping systems in the region.