From Crowded to Coordinated: A First Look at the Guinn Center's Early Childhood Study

June 27, 2024

Kristine Caliger

The Guinn Center has collaborated with The Children’s Cabinet on an extensive project exploring Nevada’s Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) ecosystem. This ecosystem includes programs and agencies from at least three state government departments, as well as other executive branch entities, local school districts, higher education institutions, nonprofit organizations, and private businesses.

The landscape has developed in a somewhat fragmented manner due, in part, to varied funding sources provided by the federal government. The goal of this study is to offer a research-based vision for the future development of Nevada’s ECCE landscape, especially in terms of governance.

Director of Education Policy Dr. Anna Colquitt joined Assistant Director Kristine Caliger to discuss her team’s progress on this study, which is slated for release in September 2024. Their conversation highlights the structure of this research project, why governance is its chosen focus, and what themes have emerged for future study.  


KBC: The Guinn Center has two major education projects underway right now, one of which is a deep dive into early childhood systems across the state. Tell me about the project and why we're studying this issue.

Anna: Our study on early childhood systems, in collaboration with the Children's Cabinet, is focused on early childhood governance, in particular. Through this study, we’re trying to understand what Nevada’sgovernance system looks like, compare it to other states and international models, and identify best practices Nevada could consider to improve its governance structure. After gathering these best practices, we plan to test these recommendations with Nevada agencies, nonprofits, and programs to see which ones might work well and where potential challenges might lie. This approach ensures that, when we present this menu of recommendations, our proposals are practical and feasible for implementation. We’ve also interviewed representatives from states with recognized best practices so we can learn from their experiences, challenges, and successes as we try to implement Nevada. This two-pronged approach of examining models and conducting interviews forms the core of our project.

KBC: There are so many challenges we can discuss in the early childhood space, such as care provider shortages and the workforce pipeline. While those themes are very important, it’s interesting that we decided to focus on governance. Could you elaborate on why we chose this focus and what the research has revealed so far?

Anna: When we talk about governance, we’re referring to the policies, organizations, and structures that oversee and implement early childhood education and care, including the ways entities coordinate their efforts. There are so many worthy topics to study, but, for this research project, it is critical to focus on one. Governance is the piece that ties everything together and the best place to start if we want to address foundational challenges and avoid mere band-aid solutions. One finding that surprised me is that there are more than 60 entities overseeing early childhood in Nevada. These 60 entities have authority over different aspects of the early childhood system, like nutrition, education, and mental health, and each entity makes decisions that impact the landscape. This complexity can quickly lead to inefficiencies and confusion about who is in charge of what, which ultimately impacts how effectively we can serve our children. How can we streamline these systems? How can we improve and coordinate practices across all entities? These are the questions we want to address, and this is the goal of our research.

KBC: Absolutely. If governance is the umbrella under which all these services fit, the question is not only about streamlining these services but about generating efficiencies that will build our capacity to meet kids’ needs.

Anna: Yes. One critical piece of the puzzle when we think about governance is how we ensure these systems can deeply connect to the communities they’re serving. Any governance system will be supremely more effective if the capacity for two-way communication is built in. If the governance structure is too broad or too heavily favors a top-down approach, where higher levels of authority solely drive decisions and directives, we miss the opportunity to understand the needs of our children and families so we can address them appropriately.

KBC: I know you’re right in the thick of the research and we’ll have to wait until early fall to see the outcomes of this report, but do you have a sense of how you’d like to approach further study on this topic?

Anna: The one that stands out most to me is universal pre-K. In other states, when they implement universal pre-K, their governance system has to transform to support it. I’d like to examine what that could look like here in Nevada, and how it might intersect with the K-12 Pupil-Centered Funding Plan (PCFP), which is another topic we’re currently studying. How can we leverage these existing education systems to support students from early childhood, through high school graduation, and even beyond, into higher education and the workforce? With all this potential crossover, I think universal pre-K is not only a hot topic but one that would be fascinating to study, specifically in Nevada.

This conversation was edited for clarity and content. Senior Research Analyst Todd Butterworth contributed to this article.