Building Quality: A Contextual Profile of Georgia's Early Education Empowerment Zones

March 23, 2017

By Alexandria Williams and Nnenna Ogbu

Introduction and Background

In September 2014, Bright from the Start: Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning (DECAL) announced four sites to become the first Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge (ELC) grant Early Education Empowerment Zones (E3Zs). [1] The four E3Zs are the E3Z North (Catoosa, Whitfield, Murray, Gordon and Gilmer Counties), the Clarke E3Z (Clarke County), the Bibb E3Z (Bibb County), and the South Georgia E3Z (Colquitt, Cook, Brooks, Lowndes, and Echols Counties).[2]

The purpose of the E3Z initiative is to increase the availability of high-quality early learning and development options and to integrate new or expanded services into high-quality child care programs focused on children with high needs, which includes children who are low-income, English learners, and children with disabilities or developmental delays.

This education update provides a general overview of the local implementation of select ELC grant strategies in the E3Zs thus far.[3]

ELC Strategies

As part of the ELC proposal, DECAL outlined specific strategies targeted to increase the quality of and access to learning and development options for children with high needs, as well as support the community’s efforts to improve its early care and education system. These strategies are outlined below along with highlights of progress across the E3Zs.

Birth-to-Eight Teams

Spearheaded by the efforts of the E3Z community coordinator, the teams work to implement the ELC strategies throughout the zone.[4] The teams include community stakeholders who voluntarily represent public and private child care programs, local school systems, non-profits, postsecondary institutions, state departments, the General Assembly, and the general public. The teams each have their own set of priority areas including comprehensive early childhood and grade-level reading, school readiness, summer learning, “dual-generation education,” and Quality Rated.

The teams, which consist of anywhere from 25 to 60 members, meet every one to two months. In the North and South zones, the Birth-to-Eight Teams formed as original collaborations of community stakeholders across the region partnering together to improve their local systems of early care and learning. In the Clarke and Bibb zones, the Birth-to-Eight Teams joined with longstanding community collaborations whose organizational focus included initiatives around early care and learning.

Quality Rated

Quality Rated is a system to determine, improve, and communicate the quality of child care programs in Georgia. Through Quality Rated, child care programs agree to meet quality standards that exceed the state’s licensing requirements and demonstrate their commitment to improving quality child-care.[5]

Across Georgia’s E3Zs, the regional Child Care Resource and Referral (CCR&R) agency does most of the work for getting programs participating and rated through Quality Rated. The CCR&Rs provide one-on-one and group technical assistance to child care programs, offer professional development opportunities to early childhood professions, and work with other local stakeholders to encourage more child care programs to become Quality Rated. In the E3Zs, the CCR&Rs are part of the Birth-to-Eight Teams. The Birth-to-Eight Teams work to support the CCR&R by finding ways to reach child care providers who are not participating in Quality Rated as well as coordinating specialized incentives and trainings for all local child care providers.

Tiered Family Co-Pay Program

Georgia’s Childcare and Parent Services (CAPS) program provides subsidized child care to low-income families in all of Georgia’s 159 counties.[6] The CAPS subsidy reimburses authorized child care providers up to a certain amount. Families that qualify for the CAPS program can choose their own child care provider. Families receiving CAPS and attending a Quality Rated child care center within the E3Zs have lower co-pays depending on the provider’s Quality Rated star level (families pay the lowest copay at the highest rated centers). Eligible families do not need to take any additional action to receive the benefit.

Great Start Georgia Home Visitation Model

Great State Georgia (GSG) is a statewide effort sponsored by the Georgia Department of Human Services – Division of Family and Children Services to create a community culture of care, encouragement, and support for families before and after the birth of a child.[7] In the E3Zs, GSG is implementing new or expanded evidence-based home visiting programs—either Healthy Families Georgia or Parents as Teachers—in child care centers.[8] Before the ELC grant, the E3Z North and Clarke E3Z already had a GSG evidence-based home visiting program in place. As part of the ELC grant, each zone received a new (E3Z North, Bibb E3Z, and South Georgia E3Z) or expanded (Clarke E3Z) home visiting program based out of a child care center.

Enhanced Professional Development

One of the focused investment areas of Georgia’s ELC grant is the early education workforce. One method of ensuring that all children, especially those with high needs, have access to high-quality child care is to train early childhood and education workers to provide higher quality care. Local stakeholders from the preschool through higher education pipeline are working together to provide free, high-quality professional development opportunities to child care workers in their communities.  

Economic Development Incentives

In partnership with the Department of Community Affairs, DECAL offered Child Care Expansion Grants of up to $100,000 each to Quality Rated child care programs throughout most of 2016. Eligible projects expanded current classroom capacity or created new classrooms to serve additional birth to three-year-old children. Additionally, programs were required to create a minimum of two net new full-time jobs and establish at least 10 additional infant-toddler slots.

After four rounds of grant applications, the Child Care Expansion Grant initiative has awarded 16 expansion grants, totaling over $1.1 million. The expansion grants will help support an additional 86 early childhood jobs and promote the quality of child care for an additional 638 infants and toddlers.  

Table 1: Child Care Expansion Grant Overview

Amount Awarded

No. of Grantees

No. of New Jobs Created

No. of New Infant/Toddler Slots Added

Round 1





Round 2





Round 3





Round 4










Source: DECAL

Next Steps

In 2017, DECAL and the E3Zs will work to continue implementing the ELC grant strategies. DECAL is working on its Child Care and Development Fund reauthorization, which outlines child care subsidy rates across the state. The E3Zs are helping providers secure funds to offer Summer Transition Programs to aid in the transition to kindergarten. The E3Zs are also developing family engagement opportunities to meet their communities’ specific needs. Additionally, DECAL and the Georgia Department of Education are preparing a statewide launch of the new Kindergarten Entry Profile (KEP) this fall. The KEP will diagnose each child’s school readiness and be administered during the first six weeks of kindergarten.[9]



[1] For a detailed explanation of ELC grant, please visit GOSA ELC grant evaluation.



[2] To learn more about how the E3Zs were selected, please see GOSA education update on E3Z identification and selection.



[3] A complete list of the ELC Strategies and their descriptions can be found in the Download this pdf file. Biannual Report of E3Z Activities through June 30, 2016 .



[4] Each E3Z contains a designated Community Coordinator, employed by DECAL, who is responsible for convening the Birth-to-Eight Team.



[5] For more information on Quality Rated, or to find a Quality Rated child care program, please visit the Quality Rated program website.



[6] For more information on the CAPS Tiered Family Co-Pay Program in the E3Zs, please visit the DECAL website for Quality Initiatives.

[7] To learn more about Great Start Georgia, please visit GSG website.



[8] Both programs are designed to serve families with children from prenatal stages through age five.



[9] For more information on the contents of this education update, please see the E3Z evaluation reports published on the GOSA website.