Early Childhood Care & Education in St. Louis is Broken

Early Childhood Care & Education in St. Louis is Broken

Let’s Start Fixing It

The issues plaguing the early childhood system in St. Louis extend far beyond the facilities and will require an all-encompassing, systemic approach to resolve.

The Alliance. Kids learning


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Not Enough Seats
There are over 89,000 children between the ages of 0 and 5 in the City of St. Louis and St. Louis County. Licensed childcare facilities only have the capacity to serve 47,219 children. Service gaps are most pronounced for families facing the challenges of poverty. Just 19% of children eligible for subsidies have a seat in a program that meets accreditation quality requirements beyond the basics of licensure.

Unbalanced Infrastructure
The system lacks the infrastructure to provide access to high-quality care and education where it is needed most. Some providers have hundreds of children on their waitlists; other centers can barely fill 50% of their approved seats.

High Costs for Care
The national affordability standard for early childhood care and education is 7% of household income. In our region, costs range between 10% and 15% of household income. Since subsidies are not high enough to cover the cost of high-quality care, providers must charge higher fees or refuse to accept children who need subsidies. This further burdens low-income families.

Low Wages and High Stress
Low wages and minimal benefits for teachers and caregivers perpetuate high turnover rates that further impede efforts to create high-quality care settings. Missouri does not require that ECE educators receive paid family leave or paid sick days. Wages and benefits are insufficient to both attract and retain a strong workforce. Those who do work in early childhood care and education must balance the demanding nature of their work with the stress and anxiety of their own financial precarity. High worker turnover means providers must devote precious time and resources to finding new workers. Low wages and lack of benefits limit the number of qualified candidates available.

No Standard Metrics for Quality
Missouri is one of only 12 states that does not have a universal quality rating system to measure, improve, and sustain equitable, developmentally-appropriate ECE programming. Which means parents and ECE Providers do not have a comprehensive definition of quality to help guide decision-making and professional growth and development.

Stressors Outside the Classroom
Negative environmental factors in the first five years of life contribute to grave short-term deficits in school readiness, mental health issues, and poor language and cognitive development. In the long term, effects include lower high school graduation rates, higher teen pregnancy rates, and reduced adult income and employment.

History is Not on Our Side
We did not arrive at this moment by accident. Decades of decisions by those in power and those with the power to influence led us to this point. In most instances, the decisions made throughout our history have benefitted certain groups, typically wealthier and white families, and further marginalized and oppressed groups, typically poorer and Black and Brown families. These decisions about policy, funding, and priorities have been made at all levels of community and government, including the 1971 decision at the federal level not to create public preschool for the entire nation.

Our Roadmap to Equity

The St. Louis ECE ecosystem is a complex web of provider types, licensure and accreditation status, and funding streams. It touches every aspect of life in the region and is the foundation that bright, fulfilling futures are built upon. Even so, it’s woefully underfunded and underappreciated, locking out families, forcing providers to make do with abysmally low wages for their work, and stifling the ability of facilities to build on existing knowledge and programming.

The WEPOWER Playbook identified five areas for improvement that are fundamental to fixing our broken system, based on The First Step to Equity report from IFF. Our Steering Committee and staff will use these as a guide to help determine our priorities as we move forward.

Father with his son

Governance and Coordination

Work with our partners to create and maintain a centralized data hub that publicly shares the quality improvement and progress of system-level initiatives.

Partner with other organizations and initiatives to advocate for policies and programs at the regional, state, and federal level that benefit our ECS.

Help create an ECS that is easier to navigate so that families can connect with the providers that best meet their priorities.

Funding and Access

Increase the number of available high-quality, nurturing, and loving childcare opportunities.

Make high-quality early childhood care and education affordable so that all children can benefit from birth to age 5.

Work to ensure increased financial resources and more equitable and transparent distribution of financial resources across providers.

Bring families into the decision-making process and provide a platform for them to voice their priorities, concerns, and ideas.

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Establish one set of standards for evaluating high-quality care.

Solidify the importance of child development as a shared value within the region.

Promote quality and more equitably coordinate opportunities for support with providers and caregivers seeking to learn new skills and practices.

Ensure providers have a seat at the table to bring their perspectives and experiences to the design and decision-making processes.

Family Well-being

Make high-quality early childhood care and education work for the budgets, time constraints, work schedules, and support needs of families.

Promote and encourage open and honest relationships between providers and families to ensure the entire family’s physical, mental, emotional, and social needs are met, and ensure a system of support effectively meets families’ needs.


Create and maintain an open network of support for and between providers to share and coordinate resources, knowledge, and experiences.

Explore the creation of formal shared services alliances, networks, and unions for childcare providers.

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Donations can be made through our fiscal sponsor, the St. Louis Community Foundation. We greatly appreciate your support.

All contributions to the Gateway Early Childhood Alliance are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by US law through The Alliance's fiscal sponsor, the St. Louis Community Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization recognized by the IRS.

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