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Early Childhood

Democratic Bill Aims to Make Child Care More Accessible, Beef Up Early Learning

By Andrew Ujifusa — September 14, 2017 2 min read
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Legislation tailored to expand access to and improve the quality of child-care and early-learning programs was introduced Thursday by Democrats in both the House and Senate, including the party’s top members of those respective chambers’ education committees.

The Child Care for Working Families Act would more than double the number of children eligible for child-care assistance. It would also ensure that families making less than 150 percent of a state’s median income would not pay more than 7 percent of their income on child care. In addition, according to a fact sheet about the legislation, the bill would:

  • Provide incentives and funding for states to create high-quality preschool programs for low- and moderate income 3- and 4-year olds during the school day, while providing a higher matching rate for programs for infants and toddlers, who are often harder and more expensive to care for.
  • Increase workforce training and compensation, including by ensuring that all child-care workers are paid a living wage and that early-childhood educators are provided parity with elementary school teachers with similar credentials and experience.
  • Improve care in a variety of settings, including addressing the needs of family, friend, and neighbor care and care during non-traditional hours to help meet the needs of working families.
  • Build more inclusive, high-quality child-care providers for children with disabilities, and infants and toddlers with disabilities, including by increasing funding for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
  • Help all Head Start programs meet the new expanded duration requirements and provide full-day, full-year programming.

Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., the top Democrat on the House education committee and one of the bill’s co-authors, said during a press conference Thursday that Virginia is one of 33 states where child-care costs exceed those of higher education. And he also highlighted the portions of the bill designed to increase both pay and training for child-care workers.

“This bill is not only the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do,” Scott said.

And Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., the Senate education committee’s ranking Democrat and another co-author, cited her background as a preschool teacher in supporting the bill: “I know how critical development in the first few years is. This bill is not only the right thing to do for working families and the economy, it is a smart investment in our children and their future.”

Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., and Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., also co-authored the Child Care for Working Families Act.

Eye on Trump

As with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and an infrastructure spending package that includes school construction Democrats introduced in May, the child-care bill could be a way for Scott (who also introduced that infrastructure bill), Murray, and other party leaders to probe President Donald Trump’s willingness to work with them on issues where they believe they’re on home turf.

Trump announced a child-care plan during his presidential campaign, although some experts said it wouldn’t do much to expand access or affordability for lower-income households. And Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter, has also pressed the issue in Congress.

So far, however, the GOP hasn’t introduced its own plan to expand or alter child-care programs or early education. The federal Head Start program is up for reauthorization, but so far lawmakers haven’t shown much interest in examining and revising it.

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