According to the U.S. Department of Education, many states are making significant progress in shaping and developing early learning systems, and many have already begun to address the conditions necessary for promoting early learning and development. What their research is finding is that there is a need for more coordinated and integrated early learning services and programs, along with a commitment to accountability and results to ensure that a system with multiple funding streams and settings improves outcomes for all children.*
Because of this, state policy makers and politicians have advocated for increased funding for early childhood programs, and they’ve gotten it: State funding for Pre-K has increased $480 million (6.8%) since 2015-16, and in the 2016-17 budget year, funding for Pre-K programs increased in 30 states. In just five years, state funding for Pre-K programs has grown by nearly 50 percent. States also are making funding for Pre-K programs a necessity. Some states — nine total and the District of Columbia — include Pre-K programs in their education funding formulas, while others have gone so far as to include these programs in their state constitutions.**
The passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) at the federal level has placed even more emphasis on early learning and has opened doors for states to strengthen early learning programs. For example, ESSA has increased funding opportunities for early childhood education through Title I, Title II and preschool development grants.** Get a complete rundown of specific ESSA early childhood initiatives in this report from the Education Commission of the States.
So, what does this mean for your business? It means you have the opportunity to engage with a wider range of schools and teachers who have funding to purchase the educational solutions you offer.
The early childhood market includes a number of different facility types, each with their own decision-making process. Daycare centers, home care centers and school-based early childhood programs make up the majority of the market.
Daycare Centers: There is wide variety in daycares — which you are probably aware of if you have a young child! Centers may be independent or part of a national chain. They may be based out of a church, hospital or business. Some accept children as young as six weeks, others only serve toddlers and Pre-K students. Many larger daycare chains centralize purchasing while independent centers have purchasing autonomy. These factors will all affect your marketing strategy, but typically you will need to target your marketing to Directors.
Home Care Centers: These generally are privately run by an individual. Their capacity is typically smaller than that of a daycare center, serving an average of just four to six children. These home-based centers are still required to meet state licensing regulations and often provide children with robust early learning curricula. Due to their size, home care centers don’t purchase at the volume of daycare centers, but with more than 71,000 home-based facilities in the country, it’s worth developing a strategy to reach these entrepreneurs.
School-Based Programs: Many public and private elementary schools also offer Pre-K programs with a focus on building children’s skills for success in kindergarten. Federally funded Head Start programs are often run out of schools, serving children ages three to five from families with incomes below the poverty line. The goal of Head Start is to promote school readiness and increase parental involvement.
Marketing to school-based early learning programs is often the most natural extension if you’re already selling to K-12 schools. Send your marketing communications to district-level curriculum directors, before- and after-school program directors, and, depending on the district size, superintendents or assistant superintendents. Early childhood teachers will have influence over purchasing decisions and also are likely to spend money out-of-pocket to stock their classrooms.
However, regardless of the center type, early learning programs have a great need for effective curriculum, supplemental learning resources, technology, apps, games, and arts and crafts supplies. Agile Education Marketing is a great resource as you strategize about how the early learning market fits into your marketing plans. Click here for a deeper dive into the market size and opportunities within it.
*Source: Early Learning Data, U.S. Department of Education.
**Source: State Pre-K Funding 2016-17 Fiscal Year: Trends and Opportunities, Education Commission of the States