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Child-Care Plans Could Fragment Aid, Experts Warn

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Washington--Researchers and child-development professionals told the Education and Labor Committee last week that while they would like to see a child-care bill passed this year, the three-pronged measure sponsored by the panel's chairman could result in a lack of coordination between programs.

The bill, HR 3, would expand Head Start, create a program to fund school-based efforts for children ages 4 and older, and establish a program to fund a variety of child-care options for parents of infants and toddlers.

Representative Augustus F. Hawkins, Democrat of California, said last week that he introduced the bill "with the intention of using it as a vehicle for crafting legislation with bipartisan support and incorporating the best thinking of the experts in the field."

Many lawmakers, particularly Republicans, support a tax credit for families with children as an alternative to a federal child-care program, and a tax provision may be part of a bipartisan compromise.

But the main competing proposal is the "act for better child care," a revised version of legislation that died in the last Congress. It would subsidize a variety of child-care options through a program similar to Mr. Hawkins's proposal for younger children. Both bills would set minimum quality and safety standards as well as fund initiatives to improve the supply and training of providers. (See Education Week, Feb. 1, 1989.)

Some education groups that withdrew their support for the abc bill last year think the Hawkins bill better addresses some of their concerns about state aid to religious child-care programs.

Coordination Problems Seen

But several witnesses at last week's hearing suggested that dividing up the federal effort by age group, as HR 3 would do, could make it difficult to coordinate services in a community, force parents to change their arrangements several times, and create inequities between types of child-care provid different regulations andel10lstandards were applied in each section of the bill. They also said that it was unclear which part of the plan would cover 3-year-olds.

Norton Grubb, professor of education at the University of California at Berkeley, said the plan creates an "unhealthy division" between ''custodial" programs for very young children and "educational" programs for older children.

Mr. Grubb joined other witnesses in suggesting that the Congress allow local officials to decide which types of programs to fund in their communities, rather than earmarking one third of appropriations for each portion of the legislation, as HR 3 would do. That4strategy effectively give sschools and Head Start programs a "monopoly" on two-thirds of the money, Mr. Grubb argued.

Some witnesses, however, applauded the bill's specific inclusion of schools as day-care providers.

Edward Zigler, director of Yale University's Bush Center, said that as an established part of the community with many facilities in place, schools can provide cost-effective care and construct a program that ''becomes a part of the very structure of society."

Mr. Zigler described a program he developed that augments school-based child care with outreach efforts to improve the education of parents and home child-care providers. The plan has been implemented successfully in Missouri and Connecticut, he said.--jm

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