Early Childhood

Congress Aims to Revamp Child-Care Grant Program

By Alyson Klein — September 05, 2013 4 min read

Bipartisan Effort

Back in the 1990s, the Child Care Development Block Grant program was seen primarily as a workforce-investment vehicle. But, under a pending renewal measure, slated for action in the Senate education committee this fall, states would be encouraged to use the grants to help early-childhood programs and their staffs get children age birth through age 5 ready for school.

States also would be required to put in place basic safety measures, including background checks for program employees.

“There’s a lot more interest in children starting school ready to learn. That’s kind of evolved over the last 15 to 20 years,” said Grace Reef, who worked on the initial development of the program as a Senate aide in the 1990s. She is now the founder of the Early Learning Policy Group, a consulting organization based in Burke, Va.

“There’s a lot more policymakers making that connection that, hey, the achievement gap doesn’t just start in kindergarten,” she said.

If children are going to start school ready to learn, Ms. Reef added, “you don’t want a family child-care center with the TV on all day. But in many states, there’s no restriction.”

To help programs improve, the proposed legislation, introduced last spring and co-authored by U.S. Sens. Barbara Mikulsi, D-Md., and Richard Burr, R-N.C., would call for states to set aside a greater share of their federal funds to improve early-childhood programs that benefit from the grants and spend the money in a more deliberate way.

Similar general goals are mirrored in draft regulations for the program—the first issued in years—put forth by the Obama administration in May.

The block grant program, which is administered by the U.S Department of Health and Human Services, gets about $5.2 billion a year in federal funding, plus state matching funds. The money helps states provide grants to low-income parents to cover the cost of child care and after-school care, typically through a voucher that parents can use at the home-based program or child-care center of their choice.

States have a lot of say over key implementation issues, such as how much of their own money parents must kick in to gain access.

But under the bill, states would be encouraged to be more purposeful in helping programs improve. For instance, states now have to allocate 4 percent of their funding to bolster program quality. That percentage would gradually increase to 10 percent by 2018 under the legislation.

States would have to be much more explicit about how they were using the dollars—choosing from a broad range of options that includes beefing up staff training and giving parents more “consumer information” to help them compare different providers.

Safety Standards

The bill also would require states to put in place a host of safety standards, many of which Ms. Reef described as “no-brainers” that most parents would expect were already on states’ radar when giving stamps of approval to early-childhood programs.

For instance, the bill would call for states to conduct background checks of employees, including checking state criminal and sex-offender registries and state-based abuse and neglect registries. Currently, just 12 states require a comprehensive background check—including fingerprinting—for employees of child-care centers, Ms. Reef said.

Under the legislation, states would also have to ensure that recipients of federal block grant funds had staff members trained in areas including basic first-aid and CPR, proper hand-washing, and prevention of sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS.

Although the new safety measures would be directed only at programs that received the block grant dollars, advocates are hoping that states would decide to take the hint and apply the new requirements to all their early-childhood programs, she said.

Not Expensive

The new emphasis on program quality at the heart of the legislation dovetails with other recent federal efforts backed by the Obama administration and members of Congress to spur states to better serve children from birth through 5. They include the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge, which is giving money to more than a dozen states so far to improve their early-childhood-education systems, and a recent initiative to require Head Start programs that did not meet federal standards to recompete for their grants.

And the administration’s plan to help states offer universal prekindergarten to all 4-year-olds also includes $750 million for preschool development grants to strengthen program quality.

Given how long reauthorization of the block-grant program has sat dormant, advocates say there’s a lot to cheer in the fact that there’s a bipartisan bill on the table in the Senate. But so far, the House education committee—which is controlled by Republicans—has not made any move to reauthorize the program. Advocates are hoping that action in the Democratic-controlled Senate might prod the other chamber to act.

Despite lack of interest in the House right now, the measure may have enough appeal to skirt the traditional partisan gridlock, some proponents say.

“It’s a bill that’s not that expensive and doesn’t add that much in terms of mandates,” said David Gray, a senior fellow at the New America Foundation, a think tank in Washington.

A version of this article appeared in the September 11, 2013 edition of Education Week as Congress Angles to Revamp Child-Care Grant Program

Events

School & District Management Live Event Education Week Leadership Symposium
Education Week's Premier Leadership Event for K12 School & District Leaders.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Law & Courts Webinar
The Future of Criminal Justice Reform: A Sphere Education Initiative Conversation
America’s criminal justice system is in crisis and calls for reform are dominating the national debate. Join Cato’s Sphere Education Initiative and Education Week for a webinar on criminal justice and policing featuring the nation’s
Content provided by Cato Institute
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Equity, Care and Connection: New SEL Tools and Practices to Support Students and Adults
As school districts plan to welcome students back into buildings for the upcoming school year, this is the perfect time to take a hard look at both our practices and our systems to build a
Content provided by Panorama Education

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Early Childhood Opinion Waterford Upstart on Providing Remote Learning to 90,000 Pre-K Kids
Rick Hess speaks with Dr. LaTasha Hadley of Waterford Upstart about its use of adaptive software to close gaps in kindergarten readiness.
6 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
Early Childhood How Two Child-Care Centers Put Competition Aside and Created a Partnership During COVID-19
Due to COVID-19, two early-childhood centers put their competition aside to work together to support families during the pandemic.
Charles Dinofrio
7 min read
Early Childhood New Players Fill Child-Care Gap as Schools Go Remote
As school districts move to remote instruction for the fall, day-care providers, dance studios, and after-school programs step in to fill school-day child-care gaps.
7 min read
A student works on schoolwork earlier this month at the Wharton Dobson Club in Wharton, Texas, part of the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Houston. For a small fee, the organization is offering a full-day program that provides students a safe place to complete their remote learning classwork and socialize with friends.
A student works on schoolwork earlier this month at the Wharton Dobson Club in Wharton, Texas, part of the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Houston. For a small fee, the organization is offering a full-day program that provides students a safe place to complete their remote learning classwork and socialize with friends.
Courtesy of Boys and Girls Club of Greater Houston
Early Childhood Will Kindergartens Be Empty This Fall?
As cases of COVID-19 continue to grow, parents around the country are struggling with whether to send their child to kindergarten this fall. Some say they won't.
6 min read
Satiria Clayton was looking forward to her 5-year-old son Cassius starting kindergarten this year in Tempe, Ariz., but the recent spike in coronavirus cases has left her, like many other parents, worried about what to expect. "In an ideal would I would love to stay at home and teach him,” she said. “The reality is I have to send him to school."
Satiria Clayton was looking forward to her 5-year-old son Cassius starting kindergarten this year in Tempe, Ariz., but the recent spike in coronavirus cases has left her, like many other parents, worried about what to expect. "In an ideal would I would love to stay at home and teach him,” she said. “The reality is I have to send him to school."
Courtesy of Satiria Clayton