It’s easier to break something than to fix it, which is what happened with the Child and Family Development Center at NHTI. Families, students, and educators across the state should take notice that the Community College System of New Hampshire has chosen to tear down CFDC rather than put in the work to maintain it.
With everything else going on, this may seem small. But our foundation as a society is at risk. How we care and educate our youngest members has lasting impacts on their potential and says so much about our priorities.
CCSNH and NHTI have put out a Request for Proposals and after last week’s deadline for submissions, expect another organization will volunteer to provide the same exemplary work in early childhood education that this center and its staff already provided.
Meanwhile, CFDC families have been advocating for continuing this early childhood education workforce development program as part of NHTI.
This is not a fight we should be having now. Child care concerns are making headlines here and around the country. CFDC, which began as a state initiative to train early childhood educators, should have weathered this storm. Further, CFDC was meant to raise the standards throughout the state by showcasing best practices. We should aim to bring all early education centers up to this standard, not get rid of it. And yet, here we are, mourning its loss.
When CCSNH’s leadership met with family representatives two weeks ago, after almost two months of requests for such a meeting, it became obvious that they were ignoring the trust New Hampshire has placed in them. They do not see the public good that comes from CFDC or how it connects with their mission of workforce development. They do not respect the commitment made to the state almost 20 years ago to develop early childhood educators to benefit from the experience and guidance of experts.
NHTI has tried to place the blame for this decision on the families. You may have heard that CFDC was closed because families stopped paying tuition or that we pulled our kids from the program, accelerating the closure. That is simply not true.
As the entire state was shutting down, including public schools, families kept children home out of concern for the safety of staff and children. Even while keeping our children home, no one stopped paying. NHTI stopped charging and later told families that CFDC was closing for financial reasons. We offered to pay back-dated tuition and keep paying to keep CFDC open. NHTI turned us down.
NHTI and CCSNH callously cut off staff and families from any option to work together to save this center.
We write to serve as a warning. CCSNH’s own poor financial management led them to eliminate child care for over 60 families, employment for 21 dedicated staff, and high-quality training for early childhood education students.
NHTI acknowledged that the financial challenges facing CFDC were not immediate, but had been brewing for the last five years. Instead of being proactive and including all stakeholders to work to address these challenges, they moved instead to close CFDC and blame the families. They used this crisis to their advantage.
For years, directors of CFDC warned that the funding model wasn’t sustainable and tried to work to address that. The center was started in partnership with the state who gave NHTI money to help run CFDC.
Currently, CCSNH’s tuition covers 57% of its budget, while CFDC’s tuition covers 75% of its budget. In our meeting with CCSNH leadership, we offered solutions to cover 100% of CFDC’s budget by the families, but they were not interested in hearing a single idea. CCSNH still claims to want a lab school at the CFDC site, but the RFP and other communications have made it clear that they do not want to pay for it.
If the future of CFDC is anything like what it was, it will be due to the good graces of the winning bidder, not through CCSNH’s management. Even though we tried to work with CCSNH and participate in the RFP process, many of the ideas generated for criteria were not included in the final version.
We hope the winning bidder is one that values all CFDC brought to the community in a way that NHTI and CCSNH do not. As a result, CCSNH will have to reckon with the fact that they broke the CFDC, the trust of the people of New Hampshire, and failed in its educational mission.
(Alexandra Stewart, Reagan Bissonnette and Kerstin Cornell live in Concord.)