Early education has always drawn broad bipartisan support, and amid a pandemic that’s gutted the child care and preschool industries – shuttered centers, driven up costs and forced millions of mothers out of the workforce – the sector is once again attracting a diverse array of endorsements for a major investment from the federal government.
Education policy experts, child care and prekindergarten providers, parents, economists, business leaders, civil rights groups – even retired admirals and generals – are in lockstep agreement: The systems in place for caring for the country’s youngest children have only survived because of an emergency influx of federal aid, and the infrastructure will disintegrate without swift action from Congress to bolster it even further.
Every data point speaks to a child care field whose collapse has only been delayed by federal relief,” says Rhian Evans Allvin, CEO of the National Association for the Education of Young Children. “In the absence of additional investments, more programs will close, more educators will leave and families will pay more. The impact will be catastrophic.”
But during a Senate hearing on Tuesday, Democrats and Republicans pitched competing for legislative proposals for how to do that – one that leans on the universal child care and prekindergarten provisions included in the Biden administration’s Build Back Better package and another that seeks to overhaul an existing federal program, the Child Care and Development Block Grant – and drew bright lines that threatened the bipartisan path forward.
“When it comes to child care – one of the big-budget items most working families have to navigate – the status quo isn’t working at all for the millions of parents who need child care and the providers who need to recruit and retain talented educators,” Sen. Patty Murray, Washington Democrat and chairwoman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said during the hearing. “And nothing like the status quo is going to cut it.”
Murray and Democrats are pressing their GOP colleagues to support a new $382 billion federal program that would establish a federal-state partnership that states could opt into – or not – to expand existing child care centers and prekindergarten programs and open new ones, increase the salaries of early educators and significantly reduce costs of enrollment for families.
The proposal would retain the diverse delivery system of public, private, non-profit and faith-based programs and would expand eligibility to serve families up to 250% of the state median income.
A growing body of evidence shows the vast economic impact it would have on families – in particular, low-income mothers and mothers of color – and the entire U.S. economy.
A new report from The Century Foundation, a D.C.-based think tank, shows that in addition to creating as many as 850,000 new jobs, the proposal would provide $48 billion in increases to economic output from increased parental employment, $60 billion in gains for businesses and state tax revenue from decreased childcare-related disruptions and at least a $30 billion boost to the economy from the expansion of the child care sector and related indirect and induced job increases.
A recent survey from Goldman Sachs found that lack of access to child care is a primary issue holding back small businesses across the U.S. and preventing them from hiring and retaining workers, and found that 80% of small business owners support Congress taking action to increase access to affordable child care.
The investment bank’s analysts called the current state of early education in the U.S. “dysfunctional and broken” in an accompanying report.