OpenIDEO is an open innovation platform. Join our global community to solve big challenges for social good. Sign Up / Login or Learn more

Quality at Scale: A New Business Model for Infant and Toddler Care

To reinvent the business of child care - with caring, skilled teachers, cost-effective administration & affordable prices for families.

Photo of Louise
5 1

Written by

Name or Organization

Early Connections Learning Centers, Colorado Springs ( in partnership with: Harrison School District Two Chambliss Center for Children ( Opportunities Exchange (


Launched in Colorado Springs, Colorado; based on experience in Chattanooga, TN; national replication

What is your stage of development?

  • Advanced Innovator with 3 to 10+ years of experience in ECD


  • Non-profit

What is the stage of your proposal?

  • Piloting: I have started to implement my solution as a whole with a first set of real users.

Describe how your solution could be a game-changer for your selected Opportunity Area (600 characters)

High-quality care for infants and toddlers is so expensive to provide that few spaces are available nationwide and prices are significantly more than most families can afford. Our goal is to change this paradigm by testing a new business model that makes it possible to deliver high-quality care at a more sustainable cost. Our focus will be on creating environments that make it possible to attract and retain top-notch teachers, positive work environments that allow staff to grow professionally, and a business model rooted in Shared Services that enables economies of scale and specialization

Select an Innovation Target

  • System design: Solutions that target changing larger systems.

Tell us more about your innovation (1500 characters)

We will build on experience in Chattanooga, TN and craft a management model that can be replicated throughout the US. The model will be co-constructed by the team and replicated by Early Connections Learning Centers (ECLC) in partnership with Harrison School District Two in Colorado Springs, CO. The School Superintendent will identify 4 classrooms, in various schools throughout the District, which will be equipped and staffed to serve as ‘micro’ centers for infants and toddlers under the leadership of ECLC. Staff at Chambliss Center will provide consultation based on their experience. Opportunities Exchange, a non-profit consulting firm, will create a replication tool kit, assist with needed modifications to policy and finance, and support dissemination of the approach.

What problem are you aiming to solve? (3 sentences)

The need for high-quality, out-of-home care for infants and toddlers is a national crisis. As investments in Universal Pre-K grow, the numbers of centers and homes that serve infants and toddlers is declining. We seek to address that problem through a new management model that provides high-quality care at a sustainable cost.

Explain your idea (5000 characters)

We will create a network of four, one-classroom infant and toddler child care ‘micro’ centers located in public schools. Harrison School District Two, which currently includes 13 elementary schools, 3 middle schools and 2 high schools, will house the pilot. The District will identify classrooms, in various schools throughout the District, which will be equipped and staffed to provide center-based care for infants and toddlers under the leadership of the Early Connections Learning Center (ECLC) central office (the "Hub"). Each classroom will serve 8 infants and toddlers with 2 teachers. A single director-qualified individual, with expertise in curriculum, assessment, coaching, and instructional leadership, will be employed by the "Hub" (ECLC) to oversee the network of classrooms. All administrative services (enrollment, billing & fee collection, grants management, licensing and quality rating liaison, etc.) will be provided by central staff at the “Hub” (ECLC). All pedagogical leadership (e.g. teacher supervision, professional development, classroom assessment) and family supports (including gathering and evaluating child assessment data, leadership for parent engagement, etc.) will be led by central office staff at the “hub” and implemented in sites by the teacher leader. The infant/toddler teachers will be employees of ECLC with access to employee benefits, professional development and an internal career ladder. The 4 classrooms will be considered a single child development center for purposes of regulation and financing – making it possible to share administrative staff and (ideally) make it eligible to receive a single quality rating and tap the State’s highest tiered rates for child care subsidy (based on meeting 5 Star rating standards). This business model allows ECLC to attain economies of scale in administration as well as top-notch pedagogical and business leadership. Facility costs (classrooms, utilities, janitorial and maintenance) will be provided, free-of-charge, by the school district. To implement this model it will be necessary to obtain waivers from the State child care licensing division and the entity responsible for the QRIS (Quality Rating) system, for permission to test an alternative approach to leadership and management. Sustainability will be improved through rate increases based on top QRIS rating and stronger cooperation from El Paso Department of Human Services, which administers Child Care Development Fund dollars for child care subsidy. This approach is based on a similar, decentralized model currently administered by the Chambliss Center for Children in Chattanooga, TN. The Chambliss model is not focused on infants and toddlers (their classrooms serve mixed-age children) nor has it challenged the conventional state regulatory or finance systems. However, the Chambliss model offers many helpful lessons and, to this end, Chambliss will be a key member of the replication team. Opportunities Exchange (OppEx) will share lessons from other Shared Service leadership models and provide assistance in navigating regulatory and quality rating systems and developing pro forma cost models. Additionally OppEx will develop a series of tools and resources to guide replication of the model in other cities and states, and begin to create a national strategy and platform for disseminating tools, resources and lessons learned.

Who benefits? (1500 characters)

Children will benefit from skilled and caring teachers who are able to provide individualized care and instruction. Parents will benefit from an ECE program that offers high-quality care, parent support, effective and efficient business management, state-of-the-art technology and caring staff. ECE teachers will benefit from a management structure that empowers them to teach effectively, receive skilled supervision and meaningful interaction with their peers, better wages and benefits and more opportunities for advancement. Site-based teacher leaders will benefit from receiving the skilled administrative support they need to lead effectively, rather than pulled in myriad directions by conflicting roles and responsibilities. In this unique pilot, School District employees will also benefit from affordable, high-quality on-site child care. Nationally, 46% of new teachers leave their jobs in the first three years, often due to starting families and struggling with high-cost child care. The Chattanooga City Schools that participate in the Chambliss model have successfully lowered turnover among teachers employed by the district. We hope to obtain similar results in Harrison School District Two. Once proven successful, the approach could be replicated in another employer-supported or community-based location able to ‘nest’ a one-classroom micro-center, enabling a wide range of families to benefit from increased child care slots for infants and toddlers.

What kind of impact will your idea have? (1500 characters)

Our goal is to systemically impact the early care and education (ECE) industry by demonstrating that leadership is a transferrable asset and cost-efficient ECE administration can free up dollars to improve classroom quality and teacher compensation. We want to challenge the commonly-held notion that child care is best delivered by small, independently owned and operated businesses led by a single director who is responsible for everything. We want to demonstrate that high-quality ECE can be “big where big matters and small where small matters” – offering children and families the intimate relationships they need while also providing skilled, professional, sustainable business management. We want to show that it is possible to serve infants and toddlers at a sustainable cost IF the traditional business model is revised to share leadership roles, scale administrative costs, strengthen fiscal management and maximize the use of technology. We want to demonstrate that teacher wages in market-based child care CAN increase if resources are shifted from administration into the classroom. We believe that a Shared Services framework can be used to catalyze positive changes throughout the industry, but most especially for infants and toddlers. Expanding the supply of high-quality ECE in the United States – especially for infants and toddlers -- will require careful attention to the business side of child care as well as support for innovation in management, staffing and technology.

How does or how could your idea impact low-income children? (1500 characters)

Both ECLC and Chambliss primarily serve low-income children, and both tap multiple funding streams – including Early Head Start, Head Start, CCDF child care subsidies, public PreK, private sector contributions, and more – to help make care affordable for low-income families. Thus, they are poised to use this new model as a strategy to serve additional low-income children. That said, this pilot will initially focus on providing affordable child care for the teachers and staff in Harrison School District Two (located in Colorado Springs, CO) and based on private pay revenues. This way we can test the model, and better understand likely costs and appropriate price points before we add the additional layer of administrative complexity required to tap public subsidy in the form of CCDF vouchers or Early Head Start. However, once we demonstrate viability of the model our intention is expand the approach to include these high-need children and families.

Scale: Describe how your idea could reach a significant number of end-users. (1500 characters)

The possibility for scaling this management approach is huge. If we successfully model the use of Shared Service management principles in center-based care for infants and toddlers, and document the regulatory and fiscal accountability changes needed to succeed, the approach could be scaled and replicated in many locations, with varied auspices, all across the US. Quite frankly, the field of ECE has long struggled with the notion of attaining quality at scale. A key challenge, in our view, is that local, state and national policy and finance tends to mirror and reinforce the business model of a single, stand-alone center or home-based provider (which we now know is fundamentally flawed). The governmental entities that shape industry-wide implementation and finance do not acknowledge the power and efficacy of scaled, multi-site networks that centralize leadership and administration. In fact, all too often government policy inadvertently discourages effective management at scale. Thus, demonstrating the effectiveness of an alternative approach, and identifying the regulatory, policy and financial barriers that must be addressed in order to scale the approach, is a game-changer. After successful implementation in school district space, the approach could be replicated in other employer-supported or community-based locations that are willing and able to ‘nest’ a one-classroom micro-center, making it possible to significantly scale quality care for infants and toddlers.

Feasibility: Where are you with understanding the feasibility of your idea? Describe what you’ve done so far and your plans. (3000 characters)

Our proposal is rooted in actual practice, adapted to meet the unique needs of infants and toddlers and incorporate additional quality measures and family supports. Chambliss Center for Children is currently implementing a Shared Services management framework for the sites they oversee. Early Connections Learning Centers is poised to build on the Chambliss experience – tailoring the approach to meet the unique needs of infants and toddlers and build in the high-quality supports currently available in their centers. ECLC has obtained verbal agreement from the Superintendent of Harrison School District Two to test the model, and ECLC has staff on board who are prepared to work on building out the model. Opportunities Exchange has deep experience working on Shared Services, ECE policy, and cost modeling and their team of consultants are prepared to provide needed support as well as to track the implementation process and document lessons learned. ECLC currently uses a Shared Services management framework for the child development centers under their non-profit umbrella and also offers a menu of Shared Service business and pedagogical leadership services to a network of affiliated family child care homes. Adding in an additional approach – focusing specifically on building a network of off-site micro centers for infants and toddlers – is very possible using their current automated child management system, administrative policies, procedures and leadership. In short, due to current capacity and scale in ECLC, the cost of building a network of off-site infant/toddler classrooms will be a marginal increase rather than a full start-up expense. Colorado Springs is an excellent location to test the feasibility of this approach for several reasons. First, the local Early Childhood Council has identified increasing capacity for high-quality infant/toddler care in El Paso County as a top priority. Second, the local school district is keenly interested in addressing the child care challenges of their employees. Given that Colorado has some of the highest-priced infant care in the nation, strategies that can help lower costs and make care more affordable for families is of great interest. Additionally, the ECLC CEO, Diane Price, is a member of the Early Childhood Policy Vision Advisory Board sponsored by the Colorado Children’s Campaign and Clayton Early Learning, which offers another opportunity to disseminate findings and spur replication. We believe this new management approach is not only feasible but an exciting opportunity for the field as a whole. We know that additional fundraising will be needed to fully implement the model, and all three organizations have deep experience with fundraising and a strong track record of success. Winning an OpenIDEO prize will help significantly – to leverage additional support from other private sector funders, priority attention from policy makers, and buy-in from the early care and education field as a whole

Tell us more about you (3000 characters)

Our team is led by three individuals with a passion to improve the lives of children and families, deep knowledge of ECE business and pedagogy, years of experience in the ‘school of hard knocks’, and a willingness to task risks and try new ideas. The initial idea was inspired by Phil Acord (Chambliss Center) in response to his local School Superintendent’s concern about teachers and principles leaving the district when they became parents and were unable to find child care. Louise Stoney (Opportunities Exchange) realized that Phil’s approach could be a strategy to address the limited supply and high-cost of care for infants and toddlers, so she reached out to Diane Price (Early Connections Learning Centers) to explore the feasibility of adapting the approach to focus specifically on this population. Diane and her team, who have provided high-quality early care and education for infants and toddlers for many years, were excited about the opportunity to innovate and willing to step up to the plate and lead implementation of the pilot project. Diane Price has served as the CEO of Early Connections Learning Centers (ECLC) in Colorado Springs for over 29 years. ECLC includes 4 full-day full-year centers, 2 school-based half-day pre-school programs, a drop-in center at the court building and a network of family child care homes, with an annual budget of $5.2 million and more than a dozen public and private funding streams. Under Diane’s leadership, ECLC has also engaged in a partnership with Head Start and Early Head Start for 17 years. Diane has served on many local, state and national advisory boards focused on improved ECE policy and finance. Phil Acord has served as the CEO of Chambliss Center for Children in Chattanooga, TN for over 46 years. Chambliss includes a large child development center as well as management of 6 off-site centers and 12 ‘micro-centers’ located in public schools. These sites collectively serve over 700 children each day. Phil has been engaged in ECE advocacy for many years. He served as President of four state and two regional early childhood associations and has participated in many local, state and national advisory boards. Louise Stoney has been an independent consultant specializing in ECE policy and finance for over 30 years, is a Co-Founder of Opportunities Exchange and the Alliance for Early Childhood Finance, and a leader in the national Shared Services movement. Louise has worked with state and local governments, foundations, ECE providers, industry intermediaries, research and advocacy groups in over 40 states, and served on myriad national and state ECE advisory committees and boards.

Do you have the people and partners you need to do what you’ve described? (600 characters)

We have a strong team as well as partners with diverse experiences and relationships. One place where we might need some additional, outside expertise is help in building effective relationships with (and obtaining the required waivers from) staff in: the CO child care licensing division and QRIS office, El Paso County DHS (for subsidy dollars), Early Childhood Policy Council, and perhaps State Department of Education. National experts who have relationships with key individuals, and counsel on how best to craft requests for policy revision or waivers, would be most welcome.

As you consider your next steps, what kinds of help could you use? Is there a type of expertise that would be most helpful? (1800 characters)

Once we have demonstrated the viability of this approach we will need to “take the show on the road” to encourage replication. To this end, support in thinking through how best to message lessons learned, develop short tools and resources that effectively “sell” the model and describe implementation steps, would be very helpful. Our team is great at implementation, finance and policy; but messaging is not our skill set. We could also use TA from others who have been successful in breaking down barriers with public schools, as well as obtaining waivers for new approaches to licensing, quality rating, and alternative approaches to rate-setting.

Would you like mentoring support?

  • Yes

If so, what type of mentoring support do you think you need? (1200 characters)

As noted above, we could benefit from assistance with messaging. We could also use TA from others who have been successful in breaking down barriers with public schools, as well as obtaining waivers for new approaches to licensing, quality rating, and alternative approaches to rate-setting.

Are you willing to share your email contact information submitted on OpenIDEO with Gary Community Investments?

  • Yes, share my contact information

[Optional] Biography: Upload your biography. Please include links to relevant information (portfolio, LinkedIn profile, organization website, etc).

Diane L. Price, President & CEO, Early Connections Learning Centers, Colorado Springs, CO 80903 719-632-1754 x1010 Phil Acord, President & CEO, The Chambliss Center for Children,, Chattanooga TN 37411 423-991-2782 Louise Stoney, Co-Founder, Opportunities Exchange, West Palm Beach, FL


Join the conversation:

Photo of Japhet Aloyce Kalegeya


View all comments