Tackling Erie's Early Childcare Crisis - Early Childcare Investment Policy Initiative

Posted on February 14th, 2024 at 9:00 AM
Tackling Erie's Early Childcare Crisis - Early Childcare Investment Policy Initiative

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 16 at Noon – Court Gould, MPA, and ECIPI Policy Experts  

Tackling Erie’s Childcare Crisis – Early Childcare Investment Policy Initiative

Jefferson Educational Society – Erie, PA


For too long childcare's profound contributions, particularly to the economy, have been underappreciated. And now, the provision of childcare services in Erie, like the nation over, is in crisis. Low, uncompetitive pay for care workers and thus staffing shortages; rising costs of running childcare centers themselves; working families that cannot afford childcare and thus must remain home rather than report to a job; and more are pushing access to childcare to a breaking point. The public is invited to hear from the team of experts JES has deployed to lead the Early Childcare Investment Policy Initiative. Come explore the high stakes for Erie, the challenges, and contribute your ideas to lasting solutions.


Location: Jefferson Educational Society – 3207 State St., Erie, PA 16508

Date/Time: Friday, February 16 at 12:00 p.m.

Admission: FREE, optional $5 boxed lunch (please pre-register 48 hours in advance for lunch)  

Parking: parking lot behind building, State St., 32nd St., 33rd St., French St.


Click here to register!






Jefferson Educational Society and The Erie Community Foundation Announce Launch of Early Childcare Investment Policy Initiative 


Erie, Pennsylvania (Feb. 7) – On Wednesday, Feb. 7, the Jefferson Educational Society and The Erie Community Foundation announced at a joint media conference, held at ABC 24hr Child Care, located at 1325 State St., the launch of the JES’s Early Childcare Investment Policy Initiative supported by grant funding from The Erie Community Foundation.  


As research indicates, access to quality, affordable childcare is directly linked to the well-being of Erie's children, families, communities, businesses, workforce, quality of life, and overall prosperity. A team of policy experts, led by Erie-based consultant Court Gould, will assess Erie’s childcare challenges, and propose recommendations for practical remedies to confront this nationwide crisis with local-level solutions.  


“Our goal at The Erie Community Foundation is to bring together diverse perspectives to tackle community challenges,” said Patrick Herr, Vice President of Community Impact, The Erie Community Foundation. “Supporting parents with quality childcare is a double investment in our workforce and our children, which aligns with our vision of a united, vibrant and thriving region for all.” 


"JES, in its role as a driver of community progress, will engage those who are invested in Erie's progress in exploring the power of early childcare with its many positive ripple effects through a team of policy experts our think tank has contracted with thanks to the generous support of The Erie Community Foundation,” said Dr. Ferki Ferati, JES President. “We look forward to the practical policy solutions this team will offer coming out of their extensive research over the coming months.”  


As those speaking at the conference noted, there is precedence for the JES examining childcare. The think tank published “Caring for Erie’s Economy: Childcare is Economic Development,” in July 2021, written by Gould. Most recently, the JES’s Civic Leadership Academy 2023 cohort spent more than seven months exploring the issue, and will produce the forthcoming “Raising the Next Generation: Realities of the Childcare Landscape in Erie County,” a report of their findings.  


On Thursday, Feb. 8, the JCLA 2023 cohort will publicly present a brief overview of its findings during the Academy’s graduation ceremony, which will be held at the JES (3207 State St., Erie, PA 16508) from 6 to 7:30 p.m. The public is invited to attend the event, which is free of charge.  


Working over the first six months of 2024, the Early Childcare Investment Policy Initiative Team features the expertise of: 


- Elana Como, Early Learning Resource Center Region 1 Director and CEO, Northwest Institute of Research, Inc. 

The Northwest Institute of Research, Inc. (NWIR), is a non-profit research and social services corporation which manages the Child Care Works (CCW) subsidized child care program for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, operating as grantee for Early Learning Resource Center (ELRC) Region 1, serving Erie, Crawford, Mercer, and Venango Counties.  
Early Learning Resource Centers (ELRCs) are hubs of child care information. ELRCs provide information on quality child care and personalized child care referrals to child care providers based on specific needs or preferences. ELRCs also administer the Child Care Works subsidized child care program. Funded by state and federal governments, the CCW program helps low-income families pay their child care fees. 


- Court Gould, Initiative Facilitator/Lead 

Court Gould, a featured JES contributor who authored the Caring for Erie’s Economy: Childcare is Economic Development report, is serving as facilitator and project lead. He served 20 years as founding executive director of Sustainable Pittsburgh. After three years with the Erie Community Foundation as vice president of Community Impact, he is a sustainable solutions consultant and certified professional coach. 

- Karen Grimm-Thomas, Creative Child Care Solutions of The Pennsylvania Key 

Creative Child Care Solutions (CCCS) is a Pennsylvania Office of Child Development and Early Learning (OCDEL) initiative (of the nonprofit The Pennsylvania Key) that helps employers identify and address the child care needs of their employees. In her role at The Pennsylvania Key, Karen leads CCCS focusing on building the business community’s capacity to support their employee’s child care needs and invest in local early learning systems as a means to attract and retain staff and create positive work environments. The Pennsylvania Key works collaboratively with partners and community organizations on behalf of OCDEL to deliver educational, professional, and administrative services to early childhood educators and leaders to support the enhancement of early learning experiences for young children in Pennsylvania. 

- Michelle Harkins, Executive Director - Early Connections, Inc. 

Early Connections is a leading organization in Northwestern Pennsylvania for early care and education, 

providing direct service as well as training and planning leadership for a wide geographic region. Direct 

service is provided to children and their families in five high-quality childcare locations throughout Erie 

County, serving children from birth through school age. Early Connections is the Intermediary for the Early Childhood Apprenticeship Program and Sponsor for the Registered Early Childhood Pre- 

Apprenticeship Program, serving 18 counties within the Northwest Region. Early Connections also 

administers Erie’s Future Fund. Created in 2011, this community initiative assists low-income families in 

preparing their children for kindergarten by providing a scholarship to attend high-quality programs 

throughout Erie County. Formerly the YWCA, Early Connections has been serving children and families in 

our community since 1895. 


- Andrea Heberlein, Executive Director, Pennsylvania Early Learning Investment Commission 

The PA Early Learning Investment Commission was created by an Executive Order in 2008 for the purpose of mobilizing business leaders across Pennsylvania to secure support for investments in early learning. The Commission has 50 members, all senior business leaders from across the Commonwealth, representing many of PA’s leading industries. It informs thousands of business and civic leaders annually about the critical importance of preparing all young children with the knowledge and skills required for success. It works to improve tomorrow’s economy through smart policy and investment in today’s young children by fostering public and private sector investment in high-quality early learning programs. These investments are essential to Pennsylvania’s edge in the national and global marketplace. A particular focus is on working with the Executive and Legislative branches to provide advice and support for policies and investments that serve an increased number of at-risk children. 
- Rina Irwin, Chief Executive Officer at Child Development Centers, Inc. 

In her role as CEO, Irwin oversees an organization that provides child care and early childhood education to nearly 2,000 children across 15 centers in Venango, Crawford, and Erie counties. With founding in 1969 and with more than 400 employees, CDC's enrollment now tops that of some local school districts. CDC’s growth is part is tied to assuming responsibility for federal and state Head Start programs in Erie, Crawford, and Venango Counties. 


- Tiffany Lavette, Founder of Her P.O.W.E.R. Inc. which owns and operatesABC 24-Hour Childcare, Founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Black and Brown Childcare Providers and co-owner of LaVette’s Enterprises 
Tiffany is a highly regarded social equity advocate, childcare provider, consultant, coach, friend, teacher, and leader. She is surrounded by a team of individuals who firmly believe in impacting the lives of families one child at a time. Tiffany currently serves on the Erie County DEI Commission where she is the immediate past chair, serves on the advisory board for Pre-K for PA/Start Strong PA, Trustee at Greater Calvary F.G.B.C. and is committed to helping others reach their highest level of success personally, professionally and in business.  


On Friday, Feb. 16, the media and public are invited to a special JES Community Conversation event, “Tackling Erie’s Childcare Crisis,” where the Early Childcare Investment Policy Initiative team will explore the high stakes of early childcare, the challenges, and approach to identify lasting solutions. The public is invited to share ideas and experiences at the event, which is free of charge and begins at noon. 


The team will be making a series of public presentations throughout the county. Those interested in hosting a conversation regarding the initiative are welcome to contact Gould directly at: 


More from the experts upon the announcement of the launch of the Early Childcare Investment Policy Initiative:  

For too long childcare's profound contributions, particularly to the economy, have been under-appreciated. And now, the provision of childcare services in Erie, like the nation over, is in crisis.  


The childcare system is at a breaking point. Problems include low and uncompetitive pay for childcare workers and thus staffing shortages resulting in empty classrooms that could be serving children, rising costs of running childcare centers, working families that cannot find or afford childcare and thus must forgo reporting to work. The latter places childcare squarely at the center of Erie's prospects for economic growth as employers struggle to sustain their workforce. Early learning has a lasting positive effect on kids and our economy. It is time to act.     


The Pennsylvania Early Learning Investment Commission reports that 55% of Pennsylvania parents pre-pandemic reported they missed work due to issues of childcare which led to a $3.7 billion impact in lost revenue. According to the Commission’s updated, 2023 report, that impact figure has nearly doubled to $6.65 billion in just a handful of years. Covid-19 has sensitized the nation and Erie, again, to the economic ramifications of childcare. 
Whereas the federal government suggests that families should not pay more than 7% of a household's income on childcare, in Pennsylvania, ChildCare Aware of America reports that single parents pay 43.9% of their income for center-based infant childcare. Married parents of two children pay 21.7% of their household income for center-based childcare, while families living at the poverty line pay 84.1% of their household income. This is of course contingent on their ability to even find and enroll in quality services. 

The situation in the city of Erie is no doubt extreme. Census Reporter indicates 34% (2022 census data shows improvement due to ARP funding) of youth under 18 years live in poverty. No doubt, children in low-income families are most affected by scarcity and the high cost of quality childcare. Every child in Erie deserves the best nurturing. Early childcare must be a fundamental right for all. Erie is small enough to put its arms around all its infants and has a pocketbook big enough to bank a modest down payment on its future.  


Erie, like other cities and metros, cannot wait for federal or state solutions. With Erie's modest size and with its oversized resources, it is well-positioned to become a national role model for eliminating lack of childcare as a barrier to work. 


Science makes clear that a person's foundation of cognitive and social skills necessary for success in school, health, and career are largely nurtured in the first three years of life. The link between quality care in these first 1,000 days and lifelong mental health and well-being is widely recognized. Despite the high stakes for individuals and collectively society, quality childcare for the ages 0-3 is increasingly hard to find, let alone afford.  


Children who experience high quality care in their first few years require fewer supports in school, are more likely to complete high school, earn higher wages, and avoid unhealthy and disruptive behaviors. Accordingly, investment in early learning generates an estimated return of 13 percent a year for the economy. Pat Herr, VP of Community Impact for the Erie Community Foundation asserts, "Erie cannot afford to deny a single infant or toddler access to excellent childcare. Furthermore, working families depend on quality childcare. It's among the smartest investments on economic progress our community can make. Childcare is workforce development." 


Additionally, to learn more about early childcare and this initiative, visit:, which will feature updates from the team.  




For comments, please contact: 

Ben Speggen  

Vice President 
Jefferson Educational Society 



Erin D. Fessler 

Vice President of Marketing & Community/Government Relations  

The Erie Community Foundation 



The Jefferson Educational Society of Erie is a nonprofit and nonpartisan institution founded to promote civic enlightenment and community progress for the Erie region through study, research, and discussion. The JES offers courses, seminars, and lectures that explain the central ideas that have formed the past, assist in exploring the present, and offer guidance to enhance the civic future of the Erie region. As an Erie think tank, the JES promotes knowledge and civic pride through research, the publication of policy papers on public issues, essays, reports, and the sponsorship of civic forums. To lean more, visit 

The Erie Community Foundation’s mission is to inspire, engage and empower donors and communities across the region, today and tomorrow. We envision a united, vibrant, and thriving region for all. The Foundation signed the Nonprofit Partnership’s Diversity Equity & Inclusion Pledge in 2019 to demonstrate our commitment to our community. To learn more visit