Public Policy Forum Blog

Putting the private in public-private partnership

One of the questions greater public investment in early childhood education raises is whether government should play a role in the lives of most children under school age. Even for those who believe school readiness is an appropriate effort for government to fund, there is the question of how to finance that investment.

The City of Boston has grappled with these questions. In 2006 Mayor Menino asked a group of early childhood researchers and practitioners: In light of
...the stark reality that half of the test score gap at twelfth grade is attributable to gaps that exist at first grade, ...recommend steps that would yield the greatest impact on preventing and closing academic achievement gaps among children before school entry.
The resulting recommendations laid the groundwork for a new public-private partnership unveiled last week aimed at "universal school readiness" and termed Thrive in Five.

Of the $3.25 million committed to the effort, the city put up $750,000 and was joined by the United Way with $1.3 million. In addition, Children's Hospital Boston; Partners HealthCare and its founding hospitals, Brigham and Women’s and Mass. General Hospital; and the Nellie Mae Education Foundation will contribute another $1.2 million over the next three years.

According to Boston's mayor's office, Thrive in Five was developed after a year-long public and private collaboration led by the City of Boston and United Way. A 65-member School Readiness Action Planning Team was appointed by the mayor and co-chaired by the CEO of Boston's Children’s Hospital and the president of Wheelock College. Another team of 35 parents from across the city provided feedback to the larger planning team. An additional 300 Boston leaders and residents were brought into the planning process through focus groups and community meetings.

The effort is not aimed at increasing the number of children served in government-provided child care or pre-Kindergarten. It does seem to be a true public-private collaboration bringing together private early childhood education providers, hospitals, and social service agencies with public schools and libraries.

Progress will be tracked annually by measuring improvement in things such as the number of nationally accredited early childhood education programs in Boston; the percentage of new parents who are offered a newborn visit; the percentage of parents who report accessing child development information and resources; the number of children ages birth to five screened for and receiving services for developmental delays, behavior issues and environmental risk factors; and the circulation rate of picture books in the Boston Public Library system across all neighborhoods.

Unlike many other state and cities which have decided to focus only on a public schooling model for early learning, Boston's initiative focuses on the private resources already available in the city's hospitals, day cares, and non-profit service agencies. By leveraging city funds with private resources, the initiative aims to impact more children sooner and more cost-effectively than with public financing alone.
Anneliese Dickman