The rise of COVID-19 has exposed glaring inequities in our social support infrastructures, and our most vulnerable populations are experiencing the greatest hardship. Children are at incredible risk as family and community-level supports take a hit during the pandemic. Many of the nation’s essential workers also happen to be among the lowest-paid workers in the country, and are reliant on a diminished network of providers who can deliver critical child care services. Now more than ever we are aware of the inequitable resources available to working families, and limited access to quality childcare is one of the greatest obstacles.

Early Childhood Education and COVID-19: A Regional Discussion

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for increased access to quality affordable early childhood care and education (ECE). At the same time, the public health crisis is having a significant negative impact on educators, centers, families and kids.

On April 22, 2020, the Clark-Fox Policy Institute hosted a virtual discussion on the critical importance of quality ECE, as well as the crisis-induced immediate needs and the long-term strategies to build a more equitable system.


Katie Kaufmann, Director, Ready by 21 St. Louis
Ellicia Lanier, Executive Director, Urban Sprouts Child Development Center
Gloria Nolan, Campaign Coordinator, Ready by Five
Joey Saunders, Director of Policy + Systems Change, WEPOWER

Moderated: Gary Parker | Director, Clark-Fox Policy Institute

Access a recording of the discussion here.

“If we’re going to recover, financially, from this pandemic, access to quality affordable early childhood education is going to be a critical piece.”

– Gary Parker, director of the Clark-Fox Policy Institute

In the St. Louis Public Radio news story, Financial Pain Of Pandemic Shutdown Could Stall Gains in Early Childhood Education, Gary Parker, Clark-Fox Policy Institute director, discusses the situation and shares information from the Institute’s new report on the value of ECE.

Access to high-quality early childhood care and education (ECE) has always been an important factor in boosting healthy child development and well-being. Research demonstrates that investment in high-quality ECE yields significant short and long-term returns for individuals, families, and communities. These include educational benefits, positive health outcomes and behaviors, and economic prosperity and community vitality.

The Clark-Fox Policy Institute’s newest report, Launching Lifelong Success: Ensuring St. Louis’ Kids are Ready by Five, highlights the evidence for ECE as an effective and equitable policy investment.



Launching Lifelong Success: Ensuring St. Louis’ Kids are Ready by Five – the latest report from the Clark-Fox Policy Institute amplifies the evidence for high-quality early childhood care and education as an effective and equitable policy investment

The Playbook: Reimagined and Redesigned Early Childhood Educationa blueprint for addressing the racial and socioeconomic inequities that exist in the St. Louis region for our youngest children and their families

The First Step to Equity: Building a Better Future Through Early Childhood Education in St. Louis, a data-driven report which quantifies the gap in ECE services, highlights the incredible challenges families face, and outlines a set of recommendations for building a better ECE system for our region

Make Work Work: Strengthening Missouri through Quality Child Care for Working Families – the first report from the Clark-Fox Policy Institute examines the state of affordable, quality child care in Missouri and the impact on economic mobility for working families

For the Sake of All: A report on the health and well-being of African Americans in St. Louis and why it matters for everyone

Forward Through Ferguson – A Path Toward Racial Equity is a wide-ranging, in-depth study of the underlying issues brought to light by the events in Ferguson; the report includes almost 200 calls to action for advancing change.


There are a multitude of ECE resources available to providers, families, and policymakers. Below we feature a few that were mentioned during the discussion. 

Childcare Aware – raising the quality of early child care educational experiences in Missouri by improving child care services through training, education, quality standards, coaching, and business support.

Kids Win Missouri – a coalition of organizations and individuals dedicated to improving the well-being of Missouri children.

United for Children – providing comprehensive services to childcare and afterschool programs that address the many needs of the whole-child.

WEPOWER’s COVID-19 ECE Resource Hub

Ready by Five – raising awareness and support for local public funding for high-quality, coordinated ECE

STL Partnership Small Business Resource Fund – information on a zero-loan program for small businesses in the city of St. Louis and St. Louis County