How We Developed a Program to Launch Childcare Cooperatives

A childcare worker reading to children; image via WomenVenture’s website.

For the last 18 months, we at the TESA Collective have been collaborating with WomenVenture, an SBA-designated Women’s Business Center focused on helping women start and grow profitable and sustainable businesses. Their focus is to train entrepreneurs, advise businesses, provide loans, and create jobs in Minnesota. We have been working to support the development of their groundbreaking program focused on helping women launch new childcare cooperatives. The program lasts for 9-months, and primarily uses participatory forms of education. The purpose of these childcare cooperatives is to create living wage jobs and opportunities for ownership for women in the childcare industry.

According to Nancy Johnson of WomenVenture:

Despite the high demand for childcare in Minnesota and the crisis of too few childcare spaces to meet this demand, WomenVenture was seeing our small business training and loan clients struggle to open childcare centers. Even though childcare fees, inflation and the cost of living have all risen significantly in the last 20 years, childcare workers’ wages have basically stayed the same.

WomenVenture was familiar with TESA’s work supporting other education programs around the country, and so they reached out to us in the hopes of working together to create an interactive and wholistic program that would support women throughout the entire process of launching childcare cooperatives: from forming their groups to incorporating their businesses, while also providing ongoing technical assistance support.

A recent article on WAMU.org highlights the essential need for empowering childcare workers:

While child care costs continue to rise, many providers are still among the lowest-paid workers in the country. In D.C., the median hourly wage for childcare workers was $14.33 in 2017. In Maryland, it was $11.29. And in Virginia, it was $9.82. (D.C.’s wage is high compared to other places, but when adjusted for cost of living, that money doesn’t go nearly as far as it would in less expensive areas.)

This may come as a surprise to area parents, who are paying among the highest costs for child care in the nation — sometimes thousands of dollars a month…

…[and] after paying for the essentials of running a child care center — things like rent, utilities and supplies — there’s little money left for the actual people who are doing the work, many of whom are women, often women of color.

And so, according to Johnson of WomenVenture, it was always critical that these new childcare businesses they are helping to launch would be cooperatives:

WomenVenture chose to focus on worker co-ops to increase economic stability for worker-owners, build a needed local asset in a community, and, through democratic decision making, to elevate the teachers’ voice in childcare centers.

Creating a Curriculum and Games to Launch the New Childcare Cooperatives

For us at TESA, it was an incredible experience working with WomenVenture and we’ve been thrilled to be a part of building their program from the ground up. In addition to working on developing weekly sessions for the women seeking to launch childcare cooperatives, we got to work with WomenVenture to create lab sessions, interactive games and resources, and a 100-page handbook with resources, activities, and work guides.

It has been such an honor to be involved in this form of adult education, as well as to get to play a role in supporting economic self-determination and opportunities for ownership and wealth generation. We were privileged to be able to generate tools, curriculum, and resources that focused on everything from childcare licensing to designing your childcare space, financial literacy, and cooperative business skills.

We also had the chance to see the results of the program and help WomenVenture improve it: After the first cohort of participants finished the sixteen training sessions, we got back to work with WomenVenture, reviewing what went well, what needed improvement, and how to continue to build out the initiative.

Now, we are working on developing a fictional child care group to serve as a case study that future participants will engage with throughout the entire program. The case study group will mirror the progress of the participants and act as an evolving and dynamic learning tool.

What WomenVenture Has to Say

TESA made critical contributions to our impact with class participants. Using their broad knowledge of worker co-ops and understanding of popular education methods, TESA designed engaging, active exercises and meaningful and playful learning activities with respect for our adult learners’ life experiences and cultural knowledge. TESA completed curriculum sections on time and worked closely with us on revisions. Their contributions made a huge difference in the overall success of our childcare co-op classes.

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