The new FY2017 Early Head Start – Child Care Partnership Monitoring Protocol focuses heavily on fiscal management, and this makes sense given what the Office of Head Start (OHS) has shared about fiscal issues being one of the top challenges for many Round 1 Early Head Start – Child Care Partnership (EHS-CCP) grantees. An example of a challenge we’ve seen and heard about often is that program designs and budgets are not closing the gap between current child care partner functioning and the level of performance required by the EHS-CCP project. In our experience, most of the technical assistance available is not identifying or solving this problem. OHS developed a Cost Estimation Tool that is useful for gathering data points for examining the fiscal implications of EHS-CCP, yet the tool only takes the user so far. So, what else can you do to set yourself up for fiscal success? Consider the following as you plan your Round 2 fiscal design or prepare for EHS-CCP monitoring.
Written agreements to document the fiscal approach. Using the new EHS-CCP monitoring tool reviewers will be looking to see how your fiscal approach is documented by way of your written agreement (i.e. contract) between you and each child care partner, and for how well your approach is faring. Make sure that fiscal obligations and responsibilities are clearly defined and supported by “Fiscal Policies and Procedures” and a budget. One key fact they will be looking for is whether the funding to the provider is “distributed equitably and timely in a manner consistent with the responsibilities” agreed to by the parties. The child care partner budget must be aligned with responsibilities that then justifies the payment rate. Reviewers will also look to see what fiscal reports are required between the child care partner and the grantee. For instance, do you compare budgeted to actual expenses monthly? Do you monitor partner services to ensure all contracted services are completed at a reasonable cost, adequately documented, and paid timely? And, very importantly, what type, frequency, and quality of any fiscal training is provided to child care partners?
One of the biggest fiscal questions is whether the EHS-CCP grantee can show that funding is sufficient for child care partners to provide services for all enrolled children. Remember, as part of FY17 monitoring partners will be interviewed as well. Make sure you can show that a fair payment rate was developed in partnership and that the proper supports are provided for partners’ fiscal skill building. Helping partners understand how to manage and account for the use of EHS-CCP funds is paramount.
Staffing and compensation. Reviewers will also explore from a fiscal lens how staffing and compensation impact your partnership. Ask yourself, has staff compensation and/or retention been affected as a result of the partnership? We find that often salaries are set too low for teachers at child care partner sites because the grantee doesn’t challenge existing salaries at the partners even when the EHS teacher job is significantly different in scope and skill. This ties into the importance of understanding the relationship between the cost of quality and teacher compensation, as well as retention.
Implementation of reimbursements. Your implementation of reimbursements will be another area of focus with reviewers. Be clear as to whether payments are made timely, in advance, or on a reimbursement basis. If in advance, what is the reconciliation process? Have any payments been delayed for any reason? It is important to know the answers to these questions. Reviewers will also examine how well partners are maximizing other vital revenue (projected in the budget) such as the essential Child Care Development Fund (CCDF) subsidies. Grantees should have clearly written documentation, policies/procedures, tools, and training that supports these areas.
Subsidy management. Consider the role you as a grantee play to assist child care partners in obtaining all available subsidies and maintaining minimum target of 25% (or higher, depending on what you proposed in your budget). Tracking the performance of subsidies will be of particular interest to your reviewer. To prepare, ask yourself if the assumptions in your budget and payment rate proved accurate or not. If more children lost subsidies than projected, how did it impact your budget of “lost subsidy payments”?
Internal controls. Internal controls – your approval and record-keeping processes – will also be reviewed as part of EHS-CCP monitoring. Your controls should tie back into your accountability mechanisms. It should also tie back to a process for analyzing how your fiscal assumptions are aligning with the program objectives and your progress to date.
Non-Federal Share. The attainment of non-federal share (NFS) will be of interest to EHS-CCP reviewers. Make sure you are able to articulate how you calculated the NFS for your child care partners. Know how NFS differs across partners and why. Do you have defined procedures to determine whether non-federal match provided by child care partners is allowable?
Information sharing. Lastly, reviewers will consider how your fiscal approach is shared with the Governing Body, Policy Council as well as the child care partners. How often are you communicating with these groups, and through what methods? Ask yourself if the Governing Body, Policy Council and partners understand all aspects of the fiscal strategy and objectives – including the complexities, methods, and, ultimately, the performance. Consider how you involve these groups in the approval of fiscal changes as a result of fiscal analysis, and be able to articulate why.
Round 2 EHS-CCP grantees have the distinct advantage of knowing the fiscal aspects included in the EHS-CCP Monitoring Tool. We strongly recommend integrating the monitoring tool into your start up period activities. Foundations for Families can support your start up team in working through fiscal strategies to ensure a strong foundation for EHS-CCP success. The wisdom in right sizing your fiscal design to your program design cannot be overstated – it is time and resources well spent!
Foundations for Families offers EHS-CCP grantees targeted technical assistance and strength-based coaching of key start-up staff. We have helped multiple organizations design, plan for, and draft successful proposals for EHS-CCP. Please be in touch with Amy Augenblick, Executive Director, at 703-599-4329 or Augenblick@foundationsforfamilies.com to learn about how we can support you and your program.
After participating in Linda Dunphy’s Region IV trainings on Early Head Start-Child Care Partnerships we contracted with Foundations for Families immediately to assist with start up guidance for our new EHS-CCP. Foundations for Families on-site expertise proved highly valuable in setting a sensible direction with our child care partnerships via the contract, relationship and fiscal strategies. We are still reaping the benefit of their recommendations as we move into our second year.
Dr. Pamela Thomas, Director and Sonya Myers, Ph.D. Early Childhood Research & Data Manager
Picayune School District Early Head Start, Picayune, Mississippi