Decades in the Making: An Introduction to 4 Cities Who Are Leading the Way in Early Learning and the Child Care Economy


  • Annika List
May 13, 2024 - (5 min read)

NLC’s Early Childhood Success (ECS) team is proud to launch Decades in the Making, a two-year initiative spotlighting a cohort of four cities that have historically demonstrated exceptional commitment to early childhood success. Collaborating with the municipalities of Boston, MA; Hartford, CT; Jacksonville, FL; and Seattle, WA, this initiative offers a unique opportunity to delve into each city’s strategic focus on early childhood. For 24 years, NLC’s Early Childhood Success team has worked deeply in cities to advance a strong agenda for young children and the workforce that supports them. These four cities have consistently stuck out as cities that have wholeheartedly led, publicly and behind the scenes, with young children at the top of their minds. These cities have created office and staff positions, allocated general fund dollars to support early learning, and publicly championed the need to support young children and the childcare workforce.

Over the next two years, this initiative will illuminate each city’s early childhood priorities, distill lessons learned over the years, and discern the key elements constituting a well-coordinated system. The subsequent city profiles will explore how these elements can be implemented to address the needs of early childhood across cities, with a particular emphasis on enhancing the early childhood workforce.

While each of the participating cities boasts numerous attributes that contribute to their success in fostering opportunities for young children, families, and the early childhood workforce to thrive, NLC’s Early Childhood Success team has identified the following strengths to highlight within each city:

Boston, MA

With a rich history of prioritizing its youngest residents, Boston stands as a beacon of historical early childhood support. Nearly two decades ago, Mayor Thomas Menino pioneered the ambitious initiative of pre-k for all 4-year-olds, a vision and program that has continued and been built upon by subsequent Mayor Marty Walsh and current Mayor Michelle Wu. Alongside this, Boston is committed to research-driven policies, leveraging partnerships with research institutions and conducting annual data collection efforts to better support the early childhood workforce and enhance educational outcomes for its children. Moreover, its cross-departmental collaboration ensures a holistic approach to addressing challenges faced by children, families, and providers, with the Office of Early Childhood spearheading initiatives across various city departments.

Hartford, CT

Renowned for its longstanding commitment to early childhood education, Hartford leads Connecticut as the first city to implement a comprehensive Early Childhood Blueprint and establish a dedicated department for overseeing early childhood initiatives. Through participation in NLC’s Cities Supporting the Early Childhood Workforce initiative, Hartford has demonstrated its commitment to nurturing the early childhood workforce, partnering with local development boards, and leveraging data to inform support policies, programs, and strategies that empower children, families, and the community. Emphasizing community engagement, Hartford fosters dialogue between city officials and community members through platforms like the Mayor’s Cabinet for Young Children and the Early Learning Parent Cabinet, bringing together diverse stakeholders to shape policies and solutions for the benefit of children and families citywide.

Jacksonville, FL

Jacksonville shines in its ability to build partnerships across sectors to collaboratively bolster early childhood development. By fostering partnerships among stakeholders, the city has created a supportive ecosystem that amongst other things, prioritizes supporting the early childhood workforce by increasing the number of accredited child care centers as well as providing professional development opportunities. The creation of the Kids Hope Alliance reflects this commitment, bringing together government, non-profit, and private sector entities to comprehensively address the needs of children and families. KHA invests millions annually in children’s and youth programs and services while simultaneously managing their implementation and monitoring their outcomes. Additionally, Jacksonville’s longstanding commitment to early literacy is evidenced through Jacksonville Children’s Commission reading initiatives spanning multiple mayoral tenures, empowering families and communities to foster a culture of learning and a love for reading from an early age.

Seattle, WA

Positioned at the forefront of early childhood advocacy, Seattle demonstrates a steadfast commitment to its youngest community members through ongoing mayoral support. Spearheaded by city leadership, the pioneering Seattle Preschool Program offers culturally responsive, high-quality education to all eligible children, irrespective of income, underscoring Seattle’s dedication to closing opportunity gaps from an early age. Supported by voter-approved tax levies, such initiatives exemplify the city’s proactive approach to fostering equitable access to early childhood resources and opportunities. Seattle also prioritizes initiatives that fortify the early childhood workforce through training and coaching, ensuring high-quality care and education for all children.

Throughout the next two years, NLC will delve deeper into the success of these four cities, examining their impact and identifying strategies for replication in other communities striving to support young children and the workforce that supports them. Through various publications and webinars, NLC will share comprehensive insights and best practices gleaned from Boston, Hartford, Jacksonville, and Seattle, empowering communities nationwide to implement effective strategies for advancing early childhood success.

This initiative was made possible by the generous support of the Foundation for Child Development.

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About the Author

Annika List

About the Author

Annika List is the Senior Specialist, Early Childhood Success, Center for Leadership, Education, Advancement & Development at the National League of Cities.