CIE Spotlight: Promoting an Equitable Early Childhood Workforce in Jacksonville


  • Samantha Pedrosa
June 5, 2023 - (7 min read)

Early childhood education programs have become a bedrock for the youth of our cities, towns and villages. These programs seek to put families at the forefront of our communities by advancing educational outcomes for children. Supporting these efforts is a workforce of caregivers and childhood advocates who have the responsibility of ensuring the youngest members of our communities can socialize and develop emotional well-being in safe spaces.  

The City of Jacksonville, Florida, has proven to be exemplary at utilizing government and nonprofit partnerships to provide the best early childhood programming for its youngest residents. With the help of the National League of Cities’ City Inclusive Entrepreneurship program, Jacksonville has been able to garner funding and resources to enhance the workforce charged with shaping the development of infants through pre-K children within their borders.  

Bringing Together a Coalition 

Jacksonville is a thriving city with more than 950,000 residents. Known for beaches, sunshine and museums, it is an ideal vacation destination for many. But for those who call Jacksonville home, the city is dedicated to enhancing opportunities for childcare providers by increasing the number of accredited child care and family child care centers in the region. This approach benefits children, strengthens the workforce and enhances their small business ecosystem. To accomplish this, Jacksonville has enlisted the help of several partners:  

Together, this collaboration offers the Business Leadership Institute (BLI) for Early Learning Master Class as well as the Accreditation Academy through the City of Jacksonville’s Kids Hope Alliance. The Kids Hope Alliance acts as a funder on behalf of the City of Jacksonville to create and establish access to programs, services and activities for children and youth. Kids Hope Alliance’s Chief Administrative Officer Dr. Saralyn Grass and Assistant Director of Contract Management Chardae Chaney offer additional insight about the process and Jacksonville’s work to get child care centers across the city accredited.  

“What makes Jacksonville special is we’ve done so much work in the space of young people from early learning to workforce development to our afterschool programs,” says Chaney. “We’ve kind of been a trailblazer for years and now we’re really looking to turn it up and begin to do some things that we haven’t before.”  

Getting the Gold Seal 

Together, the partners work toward helping child care centers get accreditation and establish themselves as a Gold Seal Quality Care Program. The state of Florida uses the Gold Seal to recognize childcare and family daycare centers that have become accredited. This is beneficial to small child care businesses in Jacksonville because it offers tax exemptions for supplies and materials, and up to 20 percent subsidy per child through vouchers. Ideally, the city wants all its childcare centers to be accredited. For residents, this accreditation provides more quality care and education for their children, and for businesses, these vouchers can be up to $100,000 in additional income depending on the size of the center.  

To help centers get accredited, the city uses funding from grants and partnerships to invest in these small businesses upfront because they believe the benefits it provides the community are invaluable. “We want to have the highest number of accredited centers in the state. So that we’re drawing down the most state and federal money that we possibly can make sure all our programs are of high quality …,” Grass explains. “We want to make sure that if they’re [parents] getting this voucher for their child it’s attached to high-quality center.” 

The Kids Hope Alliance provides $1,200 in additional funding per childcare center and $600 per family home center. By receiving the CIE grant, they can increase funding to expand the number of centers they can move through the accreditation process per year from 12 to 18 small businesses providing childcare services. These efforts aid the entrepreneurial ecosystem while increasing the quality of early childhood offerings.  

Working Together to Establish a Pipeline 

Jacksonville’s Kids Hope Alliance has been inventive in utilizing various partnerships to create a small business pipeline for childcare providers. Each partner plays a critical role in recruitment, education, and accreditation for small business owners. BLI, APPLE, and ELC collaborate with the city to create successful business owners using these key steps:  

  1. Recruitment. Through their partnership with the Early Learning Coalition (ELC) of Duval County, a nonprofit aimed at providing quality care and early childhood education to children residing in Duval County, the city’s Kids Hope Alliance can recruit local child care centers and family child care providers. ELC acts as a fiscal agent for the program, they receive state funding for the School Readiness contracts. Once ELC receives the grant from the Kids Hope Alliance, they contribute 20 percent toward accreditation costs.  
  1. Education. The Master Class and Accreditation Program are offered by two partners. The Business Leadership Institute (BLI), an organization that works specifically with childcare centers and home-based businesses to give them the tools for success, offers the Master Class. Through the Master Class, centers learn important business development skills: how to do taxes, write business plans, budgeting and more. This helps prepare centers to meet the requirements necessary to move on to the Accreditation Program.  
  1. Accreditation. The Accreditation Program given by APPLE, piloted by the Florida Association for Child Care Management, provides coaching, review of the centers to meet quality requirements,, and will go to the centers to review how they teach and interact with the children before providing a final assessment. It is only after passing APPLE’s rigorous process that childcare centers can obtain Florida’s Gold Seal.  

Celebrating Accreditation 

With the accreditation program being a yearlong process that small business owners participate in, Kids Hope Alliance offers participants the chance to celebrate. Friends and family are invited to join participants of the cohort in an official graduation ceremony upon completion of the program. Jacksonville has had much success with this program, 2023 will be their third year completing the program, and already they have seen evidence that their accredited providers continue to provide a high quality of care and education for children through higher scores from past participants.  

The city aims for the graduation to have a two-fold effect: giving small business owners the chance to celebrate their accomplishments and recruiting new childcare entrepreneurs to take part in the program. With the help of the ELC of Duval County vetting process, Jacksonville can invite centers that they know would meet the requirements to move forward with the accreditation program to attend the graduation and learn more. Also in 2023, they will invite 20 centers to attend with the hopes of recruiting them to participate in accreditation. The Kids Hope Alliance will use this as an additional measurement of success for the program – how many attended, who was interested after going to the graduation, and which centers make it through Master Class and Accreditation Program in 2024 from the original invitees.  

They hope that through continuing to build this pipeline with the help of partners and cohort participants many small businesses across Jacksonville will be able to reap the benefits of this program while benefitting the youngest residents of the community.  

This blog is part of a series highlighting NLC’s City Inclusive Entrepreneurship (CIE) Network. Cities in the network have committed to implementing new policies, programs and practices that increase economic opportunity for residents through small business ownership and entrepreneurship. In March 2023, Mayor Lenny Curry of Jacksonville, FL, committed to prioritizing business support and financial empowerment for early childhood providers.  

About the Author

Samantha Pedrosa

About the Author

Samantha Pedrosa is a Program Manager at the National League of Cities.