Working Families Summit Recap

working families summit

On Monday, I joined President Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden at the Omni Hotel in Washington D.C. for the first ever White House Summit on Working Families. The place was packed with policymakers, business and labor leaders, economists, reporters and their cameramen, and of course many advocates for working families, including parents and small business owners from across the country. The sum of us gathered for opening remarks with the same questions on our minds: What will it take to help working families succeed in the 21st century workplace, and how can we, as a nation, make it happen?

The theme of the day revealed itself early, as Dr. Jill Biden spoke about her personal experiences as a mother of three, working and going to school full-time in earlier years. Her husband and Vice President and later the Obamas would also speak to their own experiences of struggling to balance their careers with family and their children. The message was clear that although issues vary from one individual to another, no one is alone in these experiences. All working families experience these challenges.

I was very interested to see Jonathan Cohn, senior editor at New Republic and author of the Hell of American Daycare, would be moderating the opening plenary. Not surprisingly the issue of children’s health and safety in America’s child care system was brought up almost immediately. Jonathan raised the question of working families’ accessibility to quality child care, and though the panelist varied from Ivy League economics professor to Global Chairman and company CEOs, all seemed to agree that among the most basic needs of working families is the need for high-quality, early learning environments… Early learning environments where children of America’s working families can flourish in a safe and healthy setting that will stimulate their brains during the most critical of time in their development.

President Obama took the stage to talk about bringing the American economy into the 21st century and prepare workplaces to support working families in the coming decades.  He touched on the importance of spending time with family, the necessity of having flexibility in the workplace, the struggles of the “sandwich” generation who must deal with raising children, maintaining their careers, and caring for aging parents. He discussed his and Michelle’s experience as young working parents and the struggles they faced, and what he wants as a father for his two daughters.

President Barack Obama

“…I take it personally, because I am the father of two unbelievable young ladies.  And I want them to be able to have families.  And I want them to be able to have careers.  And I want them to go as far as their dreams will take them.  And I want a society that supports that.“

And perhaps most importantly, the President talked at length about child care in America. He quoted directly from Child Care Aware® of America’s 2013 Parents and the High Cost of Child Care report when he pointed out that “in 31 states, decent child care costs more than in-state college tuition.” Obama went on to say that America must find a solution to rising child care costs and the burden it puts on so many families. In his own words, “child care, workplace flexibility, a decent wage… these are not frills these are basic needs. They shouldn’t be bonuses; they should be part of our bottom line as a society.”

As fate would have it, my phone lit up just as Obama spoke about juggling careers and family obligations. I looked down and saw my daughter’s name appear on the screen.  Knowing she was with her grandparents visiting from Arizona.  I had to giggle. Really? Now?  The text exchange that followed went something like this:

ME: “Can’t talk right now. I’ll call you later”

MY DAUGHTER: “Kk”

MY DAUGHTER: “I’m just really bored, what are you doing?”

ME:  “Guess who this is?? President Obama!!” (with accompanying photo as I sat tables away from the President)

ASHLYN: “Cool, what is he doing?”

ME: “Giving a speech about kids like you and working parents like me!”

ASHLYN: “Oh”

ASHLYN: “I’m still bored”

I found it so ironic that just hours earlier I had listened to Vice President Biden emphasize the importance of every day moments, of which I am fortunate to have many with my children, and then, on that particular day, during that particular hour, my daughter was reaching out to me – at work – listening to President Obama!

Vice Preseident Joe Biden, Dr. Jill Biden

The President concluded his remarks by urging the audience to take action.

“As long as Congress refuses to act on these policies, we’re going to need you to raise your voices.  We need you to tell Congress don’t talk about how you support families, actually support families.  Don’t talk the talk.  We want you to walk the walk.

In the meantime, if Congress will not act, we’re going to need mayors to act.  We’ll need governors and state legislators to act.  We need CEOs to act.  And I will promise you, you will have a President who will take action to support working families.”

Later, the First Lady’s remarks echoed this call, saying “It’s up to us to change the conversation… That’s the job of all of us and it starts here… These conversations have to continue at the regional level. This is just the beginning. And it has to be a movement, and there has to be momentum, and it has to continue to the point where the pressure is real.” So let me also close by asking you to raise your voice. Help us walk the walk. Or as Maria Shriver put it, “We all have a story to tell, tell it.”

Lynette M. Fraga with Maria Shriver

One way to tell your state’s child care story is to share our 2014 State Fact Sheets with legislators and policymakers in your community. Child Care Aware® of America’s state fact sheets  provide data useful to child care advocates, policymakers, and program administrators as they make decisions around child care programs and expenditures in their state. The fact sheets look at the cost, use, and supply of child care in individual states, as well as family characteristics related to the need of child care, services provided by Child Care Resource and Referral agencies, and the child care workforce.

Visit usa.childcareaware.org  for the latest data on your state, or visit the workingfamiliessummit.org for more ways to get involved.

You can watch the President’s full remarks from the Summit below:

 

PBS NewsHour on the Cost of Child Care

Last week PBS NewsHour aired a story about child care and featured three families whose stories represent millions of others in the United States today; the story of families who find it is sometimes more affordable not to work, than to pay for child care, and the quality of child care they can afford.

I sat down with PBS NewsHour for the broadcast as well. We are often contacted for  comments, facts and history on the rising costs of child care – but few stories capture the real point behind our Cost of Care reports; that child care is an economic and education issue that affects everyone.

The cost of child care is certainly financial news, but more importantly the cost of child care highlights how our nation’s child care system is preventing families from working because it’s simply too expensive and families don’t often know what they’re really getting for that price.  Instead of a child care system that empowers families to make a better life for them and their children, we have a child care system that is fragmented and frankly, in too many cases, simply unsafe.

This summer, Child Care Aware of America will release its annual Child Care in America State Fact Sheets. These reports lay bare the numbers beyond cost – availability, how families pay for child care, what states pay to subsidize child care and many more facts about working families today. We look forward to the dialogue.

Meanwhile, what did you think of the PBS NewsHour broadcast? Watch,  then comment below.

 

Provider Appreciation Day: A call for pay, preparation and promotion of our early childhood educators

Provider Appreciation Day Logo

May 9 is the day we celebrate our nation’s child care providers, early childhood educators and teachers. And while we celebrate, we also must reflect on how we acknowledge their commitment to children through pay, professional preparation, and promotion of the field as an essential driver supporting the healthy development of children.

Low pay, big responsibilities
We know child care providers don’t get paid a lot. But previous statistics like those from Georgetown University’s Center on Education which show an early childhood education degree among the least lucrative of all college majors, and the U.S. Department of Labor’s report that the median pay for child care providers was $9.30 per hour in 2012, still shock me.  It is so critical that our nation’s providers and early childhood educators get the professional preparation they want and deserve in the classroom, either through higher education or in professional preparation training programs.

Subsiding child care costs
Child care providers are essentially subsidizing the cost of child care with their paychecks.  Even with such low provider wages, families pay a lot for child care. Child care costs eat up a larger percent of a family’s budget – rocketing from two percent of the cost to raise a child in 1960 to 18 percent in 2012. Child care and education, not including college, costs families more than healthcare and food, according to a 2013 U.S. Department of Agriculture report on the cost of raising a child.  Our cost of child care report showed the average cost of child care for an infant was higher than a year’s tuition and fees at a four-year public college.  Two children in child care? That can cost you more than a mortgage in 19 states and Washington D.C.

Quality suffers
But the biggest loser in this low pay and high cost equation is quality. Studies and stories have proven that quality costs money and that quality is worth the upfront investment, returning at a rate of as much as 15 percent, according to economist James Heckman. Supporting our early childhood providers and educators with a living wage and professional ongoing support is essential to delivering quality as well. When child care providers leave the profession because of low pay, the turnover affects a child’s education, and we lose great educators.

Solutions
One solution to a quality child care system that supports child care providers and families would be to diversify the financial support for child care so all children can access quality care no matter their family’s ability to pay.

Join us in honoring those who teach, nurture and care for our children on May 9, and remember they too need our support all year round.  What other solutions would you suggest?

 

Child Care Aware of America member testifies before House Subcommittee for CCR&R perspective on CCDBG Reauthorization

Editor’s Note:  On Tuesday, March 25, Paula Koos, executive director of Oklahoma Child Care Resource and Referral Association (OCCRRA),  testified  before the House Education and the Workforce Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education, which is chaired by Representative Todd Rokita (R-IN).  We asked Paula to share some of her testimony and a little bit about her experience speaking before the Subcommittee.

Guest blog by Paula Koos, executive director of Oklahoma Child Care Resource and Referral Association (OCCRRA)

Tuesday, March 25, 2014. Ms. Paula Koos, Executive Director, Oklahoma Child Care Resource and Referral Association, testified before a House Subcommittee on CCDBG Reauthorization.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014. Ms. Paula Koos, Executive Director, Oklahoma Child Care Resource and Referral Association, testified before a House Subcommittee on CCDBG Reauthorization.

Yesterday, I had the honor of testifying before the House of Representatives Committee on Education and the Workforce about the need for quality, affordable child care. The Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education held a hearing titled “The Foundation for Success: Strengthening the Child Care and Development Block Grant Program.”

This hearing picked up the CCDBG Reauthorization conversation, which came in the wake of the Senate passing a bi-partisan reauthorization bill by a vote of 96-2 just a couple of weeks ago. Congressman Rokita kicked off the hearing with an opening statement discussing the importance of quality improvements to the current child care system and the solid foundation provided by the Senate’s CCDBG Reauthorization bill.

I was joined on the panel by Dr. Olivia Golden, executive director of the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP); Mrs. Linda Kostantenaco, President of the National Child Care Association; and Ms. Gloria Jarmon , Deputy Inspector General for Audit Services, Office of Inspector General, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

A long overdue bill

The hearing was in response to the  historic measure passed by the Senate HELP Committee that would reauthorize the Child Care and Development Block Grant. It is my hope, that the House can also pass CCDBG this year.

If passed, It would be the first reauthorization since 1996. It includes significant changes to the quality measures. The bi-partisan bill that was passed by the committee would require providers to undergo comprehensive background checks, receive orientation training and ongoing professional development, and be subject to initial and annual inspections.

I began my testimony by saying, “Child care is a way of life for the majority of families. It is the same in Oklahoma. But… child care is hard to find… hard to afford… and too often the quality is questionable. Parents worry about the cost… and they worry about whether or not their kids will be safe while mom and dad are at work.”

CCR&R’s are essential to communities

In addition to talking about the necessity for basic federal measures to ensure that children are safe in child care, the role of Child Care Resource and Referral agencies and the importance of these agencies within communities were a main theme of my testimony and many of my responses to the Representatives’ questions. After the four witnesses finished their testimonies, all four panelists answered a range of questions from the Subcommittee members about priorities for CCDBG Reauthorization, suggestions for where the current program could be improved, and any recommendations regarding the Senate’s CCDBG Reauthorization bill.

A memorable experience

Despite the snowy weather in my time in Washington D.C., I could not have been more honored to have had the opportunity to represent OCCRRA, the entire Child Care Resource and Referral field, Child Care Aware® of America and the millions of parents and families that rely on safe, quality and affordable child care in this nation.  It was truly a once in a lifetime experience.

 

Get more:

Full text of opening statements and testimonies from the hearing

Watch the archived webcast of the hearing

5 Reasons CCDBG Reauthorization matters

Paula Koos has 40 years experience working with nonprofits including 25 years as an Executive Director.    She spent 22 years traveling around the country working with the Girl Scouts and was a certified Girl Scout Executive Director.  After retiring from Girl Scouts and 25 years away from Oklahoma, Paula returned home and has put her knowledge and expertise to work in the early education field, serving on numerous committees in the state and fostering efforts at collaboration.   She received her Masters in Recreation Management and her Bachelors of Science in Physical Education from the University of Oklahoma.  She received a Certificate in Nonprofit Management from Case Western Reserve University, attended the Yale University Leadership and Decision Making in Organizations Seminar and the Harvard Business School Corporate Management Seminar and completed Principles of Fund Raising at The Fund Raising School.    

5 reasons the reauthorization of the Child Care and Development Block Grant matters

ccdbg reauthorize2The Senate will consider the reauthorization of the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) as early as next week. As you know, this federal law outlines how child care funding and quality initiatives are funded in the states –yet it has not been reauthorized in over 17 years, making the Senate debate next week one of the most critical conversations about children in child care in recent times.

This piece of legislation, S. 1086, is something for which Child Care Aware® of America has long fought and we’re thrilled and hopeful that the bill has come this far.  There are many steps to take still, but if passed, this legislation would help ensure working families have access to safe, affordable child care in ways that do not exist today.

Children and families in America are counting on you and I to rally behind every step the CCDBG reauthorization takes towards becoming reality. That’s why we are urging everyone to contact their Senators and ask them to support S.1086 right away.

Need more? Here are five reasons the reauthorization of CCDBG matters:

  1. Comprehensive background checks. Did you know under the current law, many states do not require child care providers to have comprehensive background checks to work in child care? This means that it’s possible for anyone to receive child care funds and work with children… even sex offenders. This CCDBG reauthorization requires providers undergo a comprehensive background check, which include state and federal fingerprint checks, sex offender registry check and a child abuse and registry check. It’s a common sense requirement to keep children safe.
  2. Increased quality funds to states. The current CCDBG law requires that states use 4 percent of funding from CCDBG for quality dollars. These quality dollars help Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies support quality initiatives like training and parent education. This number of quality dollars increases dramatically with S.1086 requiring that states set aside no less than 6 percent of funds in 2014, 8 percent of funds in 2016, and 10 percent of funds by 2018 to improve the quality of child care.
  3. Increased awareness for families. This CCDBG reauthorization requires states to electronically post the results of monitoring and inspection reports, including substantiated complaints of child care programs. Additionally, states would be required to collect and make public the number of deaths, serious injuries, and instances of child abuse. Transparency is necessary to help parents choose the right child care setting for their family.
  4. Inspect child care programs before licensing. Many states do not require inspections prior to issuing child care licenses. Some states even allow self-certification prior to receiving a license. The CCDBG reauthorization, S.1086, requires states to inspect programs at least once before licensing and at least one unannounced inspection annually. These reports must also be posted electronically.
  5. Continuity of care. S.1086 ensures each child who receives assistance through CCDBG will continue to be eligible for child care assistance for no less than 12 months, as long as family income does not exceed 85 percent of state median income for a family of the same size. This is extremely important for our youngest learners because we know how crucial continuity of care is in a child’s early years. The ability to keep a child in a program consistently will help ensure the child receives appropriate developmental activities and prepares them to start kindergarten ready to learn.

This is a critical moment for the future of children in child care. You can send an email to your Senators through our Action Center here and to learn more about the bill, please visit our website here. Don’t delay. Your senators will need to know your position as they prepare to discuss the bill.

Thank you for your support for children in child care.

From Rhetoric to Reality: Inspiring the Nation to Action

SOTU2014Steeped in history and required by the United States Constitution, the President is required “from time to time” to give the Congress information about the State of the Union and to recommend for their consideration measures he deems “necessary and expedient.”

It’s more than a great speech- it is an opportunity to focus the nation on key national priorities. Some are remembered for their historic moments like President Bush’s first after September 11th when he encouraged “We go forward to defend freedom and all that is good and just in our world.”

President Clinton when he called on Congress to create “The Information Superhighway” or President Kennedy challenging our nation to land a man on the moon. And who can forget the 50-year-old declaration from President Johnson on a “War on human Poverty.”

Focusing on early education
Last year’s State of the Union Speech by President Obama held that same hope for child advocates everywhere. For the first time in a generation, the President placed early education front and center- much more than a mere mention in a laundry list of domestic priorities.

President Obama reminded us and educated others that a child’s first years of life are critical for building the early foundation needed for success later in school. He made it about education but also about economics, noting the fact that high-quality early learning programs can help level the playing field for lower-income families and put them on the path to economic security and self-reliance. The President took the historic step of calling on Congress to expand access to high-quality preschool for every child in America and asserting that a zip code should never predetermine the quality of any child’s educational opportunities.

The good news is that tonight, during his 5th State of the Union address, the President stated, “Research shows that one of the best investments we can make in a child’s life is high-quality early education… we can’t wait. So, just as we worked with states to reform our schools, this year, we’ll invest in new partnerships with states and communities across the country in a race to the top for our youngest children.”

The great news is that he and his administration are already taking important steps to turn that rhetoric into reality.

More than talk
Late last year, early childhood education was one of the biggest winners in the most recent federal Appropriations bill – receiving a more than $1 billion increase in federal funding for Head Start, Early Head Start, Child Care and grants to states. Congress clearly heard the overwhelming support for early learning from key voices across the country including business leaders, law enforcement officials, economists, governors – and many more. This increased federal funding will more than restore early childhood education sequestration cuts, as well as provide a significant increase in funding. A bill reauthorizing CCDBG has been introduced and has bi-partisan support in the Senate. The Strong Start for America’s Children Act has been introduced and has bipartisan support in the House.

Making investments in high-quality early childhood care and education is a clear economic solution backed by a proven body of research, high returns on investment, and it’s the right priority for our policymakers.

By increasing federal investments, we can ensure that our children do better in school, acquire the skills necessary to compete in the 21stcentury economy, get higher-paying jobs, rely less on social programs and contribute more to the economy as adults. We also know that learning begins from birth and that quality affordable child care, from infancy, is critical to our nation’s families. We will continue to “raise our hands” and our voices this year to ensure that high quality child care is a major part of the nation’s early education agenda.

To draw from past inspirations from our President, “If you’re walking down the right path and you’re willing to keep walking, eventually you’ll make progress.”

So let’s do what works and make sure that none of our children start the race of life already behind.

Get more:
Follow Child Care Aware® of America live tweets from the White House
Discuss the issues live: Child Care Aware® of America 2014 Symposium
Child care provider reacts to Cost of Care Report
Strong Start for America’s Children Act

Children and the War on Poverty

Lady Bird Johnson reads to children in a Project Head Start classroom, March 19, 1966. (National Archives) http://cb100.acf.hhs.gov/childrens-bureau-timeline

Lady Bird Johnson reads to children in a Project Head Start classroom, March 19, 1966. (National Archives)

This month marks the 50th anniversary of “The War on Poverty.” In January 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson launched several initiatives to help lift the 1 in 5 Americans who were living in poverty at the time.

“Our aim is not only to relieve the symptoms of poverty, but to cure it and, above all, to prevent it”
Lyndon B. Johnson 1964 State of the Union Address


One of those initiatives was Head Start.  Now, the program serves more than 1 million children.

“Head Start was designed to help break the cycle of poverty, providing preschool children of low-income families with a comprehensive program to meet their emotional, social, health, nutritional and psychological needs. ”  Office of Head Start, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/ohs/about/history-of-head-start

In 2014, we still have work to do. Today, Child Care Aware®  of America will join the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity and the Urban Institute and to discuss developments in policy and child care. Register here to participate.

Resources:
Audio Conference: Streamlining child care subsidies: Better for families and state agencies
White House.gov blog on War on Poverty anniversary
Continuum of education – Office of Child Care
Child Care Aware® of America 2014 Symposium

2013: Setting the Stage for Young Children in 2014

For years Child Care Aware® of America has shared one message: affordable, high quality child care matters. It matters for children and it matters for families.

This year, the White House took notice, with President Obama making expanded opportunities for high quality child care and early learning not just a part of his policy agenda, but a central focus of that agenda so that “none of our children start the race of life already behind.”

This unparalleled attention to an issue that impacts the more than 11 million children in out of home care was met with welcomed hope and renewed inspiration.

Perhaps finally our pleas for focus and attention to quality and safety would be heeded.

Maybe all states that participate in the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) would have to ensure minimum health and safety standards in their programs.

Perhaps training, which is currently required in only half of the states would be extended to all.

Maybe states would be expected to conduct routine inspections more frequently than every 5 or 6 years and background checks would be conducted on all who accept a fee for child care.

President Obama embraced this challenge early on, sharing his vision for a quality early learning system for all in his 2013 State of the Union address; promoting early learning as an economic development strategy and as essential to ensuring that children enter school ready to learn so we can prevent achievement gaps before they begin.

It didn’t end there. He backed it up with a promise to fund states who embraced quality. He proposed new regulations for CCDBG, a program which hadn’t been reauthorized in more than 17 years.

Later, in his budget, President Obama proposed a new $75 billion investment in a high quality, coordinated early learning program that would ensure all children would have access to preschool. The Obama administration leadership shed light on how few children have access to quality child care and that state laws vary greatly. They did so by focusing attention on five areas:

  • Improving the Quality of Child Care: Access to affordable, safe, quality child care is essential for all families: without it, many families are left with the untenable choice of leaving their children in substandard care, or risk losing their jobs. New comprehensive rules proposed by the Obama administration are pending and have been echoed in the first bi-partisan reauthorization proposal for CCDBG in more than 17 years. The proposed rule and CCDBG reauthorization set the stage for significant improvements in 2014 for the largest program funding child care services in the United States.
  • Early Head Start-Child Care Partnerships: The President also announced plans to expand the supply of early learning for children from birth to age 3 by making a $1.4 billion investment in Early Head Start-Child Care Partnerships. This means Early Head Start grantees would partner with child care providers who agree to meet high standards of quality.
  • Preschool for All: In his State of the Union address, President Obama called on Congress to expand access to high-quality preschool to every child in America. As part of that effort, the President will propose a series of new investments that will establish a continuum of high-quality early learning for a child – beginning at birth and continuing to age 5. By doing so, the President would invest critical resources where we know the return on our dollar is the highest: In our youngest children.
  • Empowering Parents: We all know the important role that families play in promoting the healthy development of their children, yet not all families are equipped with the information and support they need to create positive environments for their children to develop and learn. The Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program created under the Affordable Care Act expands evidence-based home visiting programs in states to serve the most vulnerable children and families to better ensure that children are healthy and prepared for school and life. The President put forward a proposal to extend funding of this $1.5 billion program for another 10 years in the 2013 State of the Union address.
  • Raising the Bar for Early Learning through Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge grants: The Obama administration has invested in comprehensive improvements to state early learning systems through Race to the Top: Early Learning Challenge (RTT-ELC), a new competition that challenges states to deliver better coordination, clearer learning standards, and meaningful education and training for early educators. This program represents an unprecedented opportunity for states to focus on early learning and development systems in their states and build a more unified approach to supporting young children and their families to make sure that more children, especially those with high needs, enter kindergarten ready to succeed.

We have much to be thankful for, and yet much more to do. Last year was a launch pad for action in 2014. Major legislation has been introduced and needs our sustained voices to gain momentum and convey the sense of urgency needed to propel it into law.

Child Care Aware® of America is not alone. We stand with hundreds of other committed organizations who share the same mission and goal. We stand with the parents and children whose stories tell us why we must demand action from decision makers.  Child Care Aware® of America has raised its hand and stands at the ready to make those decisions happen. Raise your hand. Stand with us in 2014.

Get more: Raise Your Hand webinar series on child care and early education in America.

Child Care Provider Reacts to Cost of Care Report

Child Care Aware® of America’s Parents and the High Cost of Care: 2013 Report received a huge reaction from the media – more than 250 references in the news, reaching an estimated 2 million readers and viewers.

In the report we noted child care is one of the lowest paying professional fields and one of the most labor-intensive. We asked a child care provider to share her perspective on the report.

Kathy Banks, M.Ed., is the executive director of the award-winning Falls Church-McLean Children’s Center in Virginia. In this guest blog she shares how the field has changed over the years, and how her team works to balance a successful, high-quality child care program with an innovative approach.

~ Lynette

The Child Care Aware® of America publication, Parents and the High Cost of Child Care: 2013 Report was a great prelude to the bi-partisan Strong Start for America’s Children Act of 2013, introduced last week by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), Rep. George Miller (D-CA), and Rep. Richard Hanna (R-NY). The importance of early care and education is now being seen as what we, as providers, have known for decades. This age is a critical time of investment.

But while legislators continue to discuss why it is important for Americans to invest in early care and education on all levels, families continue to struggle to ensure their children remain in a high-quality program. The term child care suggests this is an institute for someone to watch children while parents work. While families do rely on child care to support working parents, the field has undergone great changes over the last few decades.

From child care to early education
Today, early care and education has improved the quality of learning for all children. With countless research findings how on a child’s brain develops, we now know that the influences children have in the first years of development are crucial to their success throughout their life. Because of this research, the field of early childhood education has increased quality requirements, added educational guidelines for teachers, and implemented early standards of learning that allow a child’s environment to be rich with positive interactions, and resources that enhance their learning experiences.

Preparing for kindergarten
Recognizing how essential it is to positively impact the brain activity while children are under age 5, educators now work to ensure that children are ready for the challenges that face them in kindergarten and beyond. Children who start kindergarten behind require additional services to catch up. If those services are not provided, children remain behind, and are subject to school failure.

The funding challenge
But public funding has yet to catch up with the quality changes. Many low-income families with young children can apply for federal assistance to help pay for child care. However, subsidy rates are at least 10 years behind the current market rates for child care services, and many  local social service departments have  long waiting lists.

If families do receive child care subsidies, many times, they are required to find quality care that will accept this subsidy rate. Many child care centers charge families, who are already struggling to afford care, the additional cost, over and above the subsidy rates. Right now, the subsidy leaves a balance that can range from $20 to $100 a week.

As the executive director of Falls Church-McLean Children’s Center, we have made this struggle our mission.

Our solution
Working to ensure that all families have access to quality early childhood education, we work with private funders and foundations to make ends meet.

But all centers do not have this option.

They either provide the professional quality early learning environment that our children deserve, or provide substandard care, accepting the fees offered through public funding to support families.

Then there are families who don’t meet the income guidelines to receive a public subsidy, but still have difficulties meeting the costs associated with quality early care and education.

Tough choices
Sometimes, families opt to have one parent stay home because the loss of one income is more economical than the cost of child care. While this may seem a solution to the rising cost, as explained earlier, the research backing the importance of early childhood education shows that children enrolled in a quality program show greater outcomes than those children who have not experienced it at all.

Americans need to stop viewing early care and education as “just child care,” and commit to the financial investment in our future.

Kathy Banks, M.Ed., is the executive director of the Falls Church-McLean Children’s Center in Virginia.

Harkin, Miller, Hanna propose Strong Start for America’s Children Act

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Today, Congress sent a clear message to the nation.

Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Congressman George Miller (D-CA) introduced the Strong Start for America’s Children Act of 2013 in the Senate and House, respectively. Flanked by Rep. Richard Hanna (R-NY), Education Secretary Arne Duncan, and actress Jennifer Garner, Harkin and Miller introduced the bill before a packed room of early education advocates including parents, educators, and members of the law enforcement, military, and business communities – and children!

“Families are trying to give their children the right start in life and are not given the opportunity. They deserve better”

Education Secretary Arne Duncan on the Strong Start for America’s Children Act.

The legislation would follow much of  President Obama’s FY 2014 Budget proposal:

  • Creating a new program providing enhanced access to preschool for 4-year-olds
  • Expanding partnerships between Early Head Start and child care programs, and
  • Provide guidance on the importance of home visiting

Thirty-nine states and the District of Columbia currently offer state-funded pre-kindergarten programs. The Harkin-Miller-Hanna proposal would build on these existing state programs, while supporting infrastructure development in states without programs.

At the same time, the proposal ensures families have increased access to quality care, by including more funds for quality initiatives in child care settings and expanding partnerships with Early Head Start programs in their communities.

The Senate HELP (Health, Education, Labor and Pensions) Committee passed the Child Care and Development Block Grant Act in September. Now, along with the Harkin-Miller-Hanna proposal, we continue to see Congress is listening, and they know children and families deserve better.

Although there is still work to do, the Harkin-Miller-Hanna legislation is a vital step forward validating the importance of quality early learning experiences nationwide.