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

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.

Parents and the high cost of child care: A Report

Cost of Care graphicChild care is unaffordable for many families. The costs leave children in questionable environments that can have long-term consequences for them and for our nation’s future.

We explore and analyze these costs in our annual report, released today, Parents and the High Cost of Child Care: 2013 Report. The report lays out the cost of child care by state, region and age ranges and explores why child care is so expensive as well as recommendations to improve child care in the United States.

This is our seventh report on the cost of child care, and while the story has not changed, the need for change has. Here’s why:

Child care influences early development.
Breakthrough research tells us the early years are a unique period of development and that early experiences form the foundation for future success.

Child care is early education.
Children who start kindergarten behind too often stay behind. Among children who arrive at school without the skills needed for success, over 85 percent are still behind in 4th grade.

Child care is a national security imperative.
Fully 75 percent of 18-year-olds are not qualified to serve their country through military service. To address this national security issue, military leaders have identified the need for quality early care and education for all children as a top priority to ensure children get off to the right start.

Child care is an economic imperative.
Dr. James J. Heckman, Nobel Laureate in Economics and professor of economics at the University of Chicago concluded after decades of research on labor economics:

“The real question is how to use available funds wisely. The best evidence supports the policy prescription: Invest in the very young.”

We recognize this report asks difficult questions about child care. But ask them we must: How can quality child care be made affordable for all families? What can we do as a national community to invest in the 11 million children who may need child care programs? This report will help inform the important conversations ahead.

Visit www.usa.childcareaware.org/costofcare to view the full report, Parents and the High Cost of Child Care: 2013 Report.

We thank the Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies who provide data to build this report. Without their support, this publication would not be possible. Learn more about CCR&Rs.

Early childhood education major + college degree = low pay

We ask a lot of our child care and early learning providers.

We expect them to provide children safe learning environments, engage them in thoughtful activities and prepare them for school success. We prefer providers to have coursework, training and experience in early education and development, to know about and master content covering topics from safety to nutrition, physical development to cognitive development and partner with families on the milestones our children should be meeting.

But we don’t want to pay them for their expertise.

An NPR report, citing researchers at Georgetown University’s Center on Education, found an early childhood education degree among the least-lucrative of all college majors.

Quality child care is already unaffordable for many families, Yet we know those that do this important work are not receiving the wages they deserve.

Our upcoming release, Parents and the High Cost of Child Care: 2013 Report, addresses the factors that contribute to the fees families pay, and how those fees translate into what providers earn.

It is time to ask the difficult questions and re-evaluate the current business model for quality child care. Right now, it’s not working.Image

Dual Language Learning: Benefits and Practice

Peggy McLeod National Council of La Raza

Peggy McLeod
National Council of La Raza

This is Part II of a three-part  blog series with Peggy McLeod, deputy VP for education and workforce development with the National Council of La Raza.

Here Peggy discusses dual language learning and the benefits and implications for Latino children.

Lynette: Let’s set the foundation here: What does dual language learner (DLL) mean?

Peggy: For children ages birth to five, the term dual language learner is preferred as these children are in the process of acquiring their first language and also learning English as a second language. In K-12 education, the terms more commonly include English Learners (ELs) and Limited English Proficient (LEP). Dual language programs are designed to deliver instruction through both languages to language minority and language majority children with the goal of ensuring that all children become bilingual, biliterate, and develop cross-cultural competencies. Dual language programs are also known as two-way immersion or two-way bilingual programs.

“Children who know two languages often have higher levels of cognitive achievement than monolingual children and almost certainly will have a broader array of social and economic opportunities available to them as they become adults.” – U.S. Office of Head Start

Lynette: How do national and state policies on dual language learning affect Latino children in particular?

Peggy: There is a critical need for federal, state and local policies to address the need for linguistically and culturally appropriate curricular and instructional approaches for DLLs. In the last decade, research has emerged that suggests that a rich language environment, support for home language instruction coupled with English language development, expanded access to Pre-K programs, well designed parent engagement programs, and high quality teachers can improve learning opportunities and outcomes for DLL children.

The most fundamental element needed to support positive outcomes for children are high-quality teachers with the knowledge, skills and abilities to address the unique needs of children whose first language is not English.

The Center for Early Care and Education – Dual Language Learners (CECER-DLL) recommends the federal government undertake large scale efforts to increase the supply of bilingual early education and early elementary bilingual/bicultural teachers. An equally important policy objective would be to promote efforts to prepare monolingual teachers and the language specialists who support them to work effectively with DLL children.

The federal government can continue to promote policies to support identification and promotion of evidenced-based practices in dual-language through programs such as Head Start, Early Head Start, Title I, Early Childhood Race-to-the-Top, and the President’s proposed Early Learning Initiative/Preschool for All.

At the state level, the policy efforts have centered on efforts to implement early learning standards and Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS). Most states have early learning standards for the express purpose of increasing program quality for preschool children and improving teacher professional preparation; yet with a few exceptions, these standards have not specifically addressed the needs of DLL children.

Lynette: How do early learning settings that embrace dual language even at the earliest settings, such as in child care, lead to long term success in school?

The benefits of high-quality dual language programs to children are starting to be better understood. In her review of recent evaluations on DLLs, ECE researcher, Linda Espinosa, reports that “a balanced dual language approach is an effective model for both DLL students and native English speakers”.

Espinosa argues that dual language instructional practices are one of the few instructional approaches that can fully close the achievement gap for DLL students while not showing any adverse effects for non-DLL students.

The CECER-DLL has released 10 briefs on the strategies for young bilinguals and on benefits of bilingual instruction. Among the benefits that they have found are: enhanced ability to control their attention while engaged in nonverbal and linguistics tasks, such as mathematical problem solving and use of vocabulary with meaning; better attention span and better able to focus, remember and make decisions.

Other researchers have pointed to the social emotional benefits for bilingual children such as maintaining strong ties with their entire family, culture, and community – all aspects of a child’s developing identity. Children who read in their home language have a stronger foundation from which to build as they learn a second language.

Read Part I of our Q&A with the National Council of La Raza
Stay tuned for Part III, Stories of Success.

Lynette is the Executive Director of Child Care Aware® of America.

Peggy is the Vice President for education and workforce development for the National Council of La Raza.  www.nclr.org

The National Council of La Raza (NCLR) is an organization whose mission is to improve opportunities for Hispanic Americans. The largest national Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization in the United States, NCLR, has nearly 300 affiliated community-based organizations, and touches millions of Hispanics each year in 41 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia.