Early Learning Facilities Get a Big Investment
In Vol. 7 of Around the Community, we learn about how and why one organization is focusing on improving the physical structure of early learning facilities.
I speak with child care providers nearly every day. That happens primarily through Zoom. In doing so, I get a glimpse into their unique programs: the colorful artwork on the walls, teachers walking in and out, or sometimes hearing children laughing (or crying) in the background. As simple as it may seem, this physical space plays a huge role in the quality of care and education for the children attending.
So, I was encouraged when I was introduced to Juanita Salinas-Aguila, from Enterprise Community Partners, and learned about their investments in early learning facilities. I hope you’ll enjoy learning from their expertise as much as I have!
Last year was a significant year for investments in early education in Washington State. From the Fair Start for Kids Act to investments from the previous federal COVID-19 relief packages and more, many are focused on making long-term sustainable changes to the early education system. One organization with an eye on strategic investments is Enterprise Community Partners, who work in the Pacific Northwest and nationwide. I spoke with Juanita Salinas-Aguila, the Program Director for the Pacific Northwest to learn more about their work.
High-quality and safe early learning programs are vital to healthy communities and a key piece of enabling working parents to stay in the workforce. The physical components—including the building itself and the physical space inside and outside for children to learn and play—of child care programs however, is one area that is frequently overlooked. The other key problem we’re addressing is the child care shortage crisis—not enough classrooms to serve the amount of children we have. Not only is maintenance of physical spaces expensive, but expansion and construction of new classrooms are as well.
King County selected Enterprise to manage $15 million of the Puget Sound Taxpayer Accountability Account Early Learning Facilities Fund this year, with expectations to receive over $150 million throughout the next 15-20 years. The fund will support the expansion and creation of early learning centers in the county with a focus on underserved communities over the next five years.
The Early Learning Facilities Fund work builds upon our experience in leading the Home and Hope initiative, a program that facilitates the development of affordable homes and community facilities on underutilized, tax-exempt land. With this new funding win, we will be able to accelerate this work in supporting the co-location of affordable homes and early childhood learning centers.
One aspect of Enterprise’s work in the Northwest is the oversight and managements of the Washington Early Learning Loan (WELL) Fund. The WELL Fund provides real estate, small business and start-up loans, along with technical assistance grants, to nurture the growth of early learning facilities. Since launching in 2020, the WELL Fund has distributed nearly $9 million in both loans and grants to early learning providers in renovating, expanding, constructing new childcare facilities and programs that are co-locating with affordable housing and early learning.
We see early learning programs as critical to providing King County children with a sound educational foundation and an opportunity for greater economic mobility. That is because access to quality early learning ensures that parents can stay in the workforce, thus providing economic stability for their families. This work complements the additional investments of time and resources that Enterprise Community Partners is making in the Pacific Northwest and across the country.