The online maps provided in the ArcGIS StoryMaps platform give families critical information about ECE providers and brings transparency to options available.
IFF and Greater Milwaukee Foundation Advocate for Equity across Wisconsin with GIS | Addressing Early Childhood Education Access
In the city of Milwaukee, there are 47,000 children under six years old, and each one is entitled to high-quality childcare. Of that number, nearly half do not have access to a high-quality early childcare education (ECE) facility. IFF—a nonprofit lender, developer, and consultant with a mission to strengthen nonprofit organizations and communities throughout the Midwest—has stepped in to support Milwaukee. This nonprofit organization seeks to empower and fund ECE initiatives and development in this area.
IFF partnered with the Greater Milwaukee Foundation, which has a vision to make Milwaukee and the surrounding area what the foundation's website calls a "vibrant, economically thriving region comprised of welcoming and inclusive communities that provide opportunity, prosperity, and a high quality of life for all." This city's childcare centers are few and often out of reach for those in need. Neighborhoods in Milwaukee's racially segregated city face different levels of access to key services, including high-quality ECE, with African American and Hispanic communities experiencing the greatest gaps in childcare.
Geographic information system (GIS) technology helps organizations elevate their storytelling and unite passionate change makers around a common goal. Geographic visualization of information enables the discovery of relationships, patterns, and trends that can be used to inform organizations and, later, residents. To accomplish this, GIS was used to achieve the following:
- Educate community stakeholders about the equity issues that Milwaukee children in Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) families face
- Demonstrate inequities in the childcare education system
- Raise public awareness about ECE needs
- Highlight the lack of ECE options for working parents leading to a decrease in contribution to the local economy
All the objectives listed above were combined into an interactive ArcGIS StoryMaps that included ArcGIS Online maps to provide a visual geographic lens. ArcGIS StoryMaps is an immersive and interactive storytelling tool that is accessible to the public and community stakeholders. By using this GIS tool, IFF and Greater Milwaukee Foundation were able to communicate the need for Milwaukee families to have affordable and quality ECE services, as well as the demographics and socioeconomic backgrounds that are experiencing barriers.
Implementing an Equity Lens with GIS
With the range of ECE programs' proximity to each neighborhood, GIS helped identify that not all families have equal access to these programs. For example, the data collected in Milwaukee showed that many Black and Latinx families live in neighborhoods that lacked government financial assistance and had less access to ECE services in comparison to other neighborhoods in the city.
To reach a wider range of families with the ArcGIS StoryMaps story, IFF and the Greater Milwaukee Foundation incorporated a creative way to make the map more accessible. Fairness and accessibility components were added to the narrative, allowing a user to hear in both English and Spanish the content of the map. This allows a larger audience to access the story, a critical measure given that a significant portion of the people affected are Latinx or Hispanic.
"When creating this ArcGIS StoryMaps [story], it was important to include the fairness and accessibility components. The lack of these components is Milwaukee's biggest challenge from a childcare perspective, especially in certain communities. This [story] offers the possibility to hear in both English and Spanish from the beginning, to allow a larger audience to access the story, especially since most of the people affected are [Latinx] or Hispanic."—Azim Elbashir, Sr. Community Data Analyst, IFF
Mapping Key ECE Elements
Using data collected across the Milwaukee area as well as American Community Survey (ACS) data, IFF and Greater Milwaukee Foundation mapped the entire city based on each neighborhood's share of the population of children ranging from newborns to five-year-olds, proximity to childcare centers, and the quality and cost of licensed and registered facilities. By mapping these elements, the organizations could use the results to help elected officials and decision-makers make data-informed decisions to help families thrive.
Several other ArcGIS Online maps were created to highlight access to the following:
- ECE providers with 3-to-5-star ratings
- Childcare facilities that accept participants of Wisconsin Shares (a childcare subsidy program)
- Head start and early head start education
- 4k (preschool programs for four-year-olds)
- After-hours service providers
This map can be used as a tool for decision-makers and residents to understand which areas need funding to expand the number of programs and identify where grant allocation is needed. By using ArcGIS tools, IFF and the Greater Milwaukee Foundation can make data-informed decisions about where local ECE investments should be prioritized.
Milwaukee infants and toddlers will miss critical early-childhood experiences if there are not enough high-quality ECE programs. While establishing strong foundations for low-income children and promoting upward mobility for the next generation, ECE programs can provide long-term benefits for those children if done in safe, light-filled spaces that encourage independence.
Providing Transparency about ECE Programs for Families
In Wisconsin, the quality of ECE providers is rated using YoungStar, Wisconsin's quality rating and improvement system, where three stars is the cutoff for what is considered quality care'. Currently, however, only 40 percent of providers have achieved this level of quality. The organizations mapped this data with ArcGIS Online to indicate ECE program locations, childcare licensing status, and YoungStar ratings. When looking for a childcare provider, families can use this interactive map to understand their proximity to ECE programs and make informed decisions about suitable placement options for their children.
"The online maps provided in the ArcGIS StoryMaps platform give families critical information about ECE providers and brings transparency to options available. "—Cindy Copp, Director of Spatial Analytics, IFF
Wisconsin Shares is a program in Wisconsin that is supposed to help families in need of financial assistance for childcare by providing them with a subsidy. However, to qualify for this program, parents must meet a certain income threshold. That means areas that see low incomes and high unemployment will have parents who are unlikely to qualify for Wisconsin Shares.
Using the ArcGIS Online map pictured below, families can search their neighborhood to determine where financial assistance will be provided. This interactive communication tool will continue to serve residents, providing transparency and keeping them informed about their access to ECE programs.
All children—regardless of race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status—deserve access to affordable and high-quality ECE services. Due to the city's long history of racial injustice, children in Milwaukee have unequal access to ECE, and these disparities fall along racial lines. By building equity into efforts to increase access to ECE, all children in Milwaukee can have the same opportunity for success.