Mixed Signals on Child Care and Early Education
Child care and early education issues are gaining increased attention at the federal and state level. Earlier this week, the U.S. Department of Education and Department of Health and Human Services announced that of the $550 million appropriated for the Race to the Top education grant competition in 2012, $133 million will be used for a second round of Early Learning Challenge grants to help states strengthen their early care and education systems. (Five states that just missed out on the first round of funding will be eligible to compete for this latest round.) At the state level, nearly half of the governors mentioned early care and education in their state of the state addresses this year, indicating they recognize that giving children get a strong start helps children, and their states, succeed in the future.
While this focus on child care and early education by national and state policy makers would seem to point in a positive direction, trends in funding and policy are pointing in a much more negative direction. Total state funding for prekindergarten programs, adjusted for inflation, decreased by nearly $60 million nationwide in 2010-2011, according to a new report by the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER). While the number of children enrolled increased slightly, inflation-adjusted spending per child decreased by $145 to $4,151, reducing resources needed to maintain programs’ quality. In addition, governors of several states, including California, Maine, and Pennsylvania, have proposed cuts to their child care assistance programs that will make it more difficult for families to get help paying for child care. Meanwhile, the U.S. House of Representatives has passed a budget bill for FY 2013 that would slash federal funding for non-defense discretionary programs, including Head Start, child care, and other essential programs for women and their families, for years to come.
The emphasis by policy makers on the importance of early learning and the new funding for systems-building will help advance efforts to expand the availability of high-quality early care and education. Yet these steps must be matched with increased federal and state investments in core early childhood programs such as the Child Care and Development Block Grant, Head Start, and state prekindergarten in order to truly achieve the goal of ensuring families’ access to high-quality early care and education.
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