Making Connections: Early Returns Are Promising
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I love the political process. During every election season, I can’t get enough of the analysis of candidates and political campaigns. I vote with pride and gratitude, and I always put the “I voted” sticker on my lapel when I’m done. But it’s not just the election process itself—before the polls even close, I’m watching exit-poll results, geeking out on all the cross-tabulations by demographic and county. Some of my most frequently visited websites are the ones that have created complex mathematical algorithms to determine what polling data are most accurate. Sometimes they’re spot on, and other times they’re shockingly inaccurate. If I’m being honest, even I feel like I can be a bit over the top about it sometimes. But I do strongly believe that data—and the stories data can
tell—are really important.
Knowing that, it may not surprise you that I am also obsessed with data on high-quality child care, and in particular data on compensation and benefit increases for early childhood educators. For example, I have been on pins and needles waiting for the early returns on the impact of the largest increase in federal spending on child care since the inception of the Child Care Development Block Grant (CCDBG).
Data—and the stories data can tell—are really important.
In March 2018, Congress passed and the president signed a budget that included an annual $2.4 billion increase in child care spending—the biggest increase to CCDBG in its history. Fiscal Year 2019 saw an additional $50 million added to CCDBG, and in December, Congress increased the funding for Fiscal Year 2020 by another $550 million.
To be clear, even with this significant budget increase, the system of early learning is chronically and seriously underfunded. The United States would need to add billions of dollars annually to fully fund the system and keep pace with our global competitors. That said, we should be able to see signs of progress—and we are:
• Forty-three states and the District of Columbia are using funds to increase payment rates for early childhood educators.
• Twenty states and Guam are using funds to address waiting lists and expand access to early childhood education and care.
• Fourteen states and Guam are using funds to expand eligibility limits so more families can get the help they need to pay for child care.
• Thirty-seven states and Guam are using funds to implement health and safety requirements outlined in CCDBG reauthorization requirements, such as background checks for providers.
It is particularly encouraging to see that a vast majority of states have used CCDBG funding to increase their payment rates to providers. Federal funding has never been sufficient to support market rates and, as a result, states have been chronically underfunding payments to providers. The results are grim: fewer and fewer providers are able to keep their doors open, more families with low incomes don’t have access to high-quality child care, and far too many early childhood educators face serious financial hardship because of suppressed wages. Governors and legislators in the states that are increasing payments to providers need to be commended and bolstered for their effort to make positive adjustments to the market. They also need to be encouraged to continue their efforts—and to be allies in helping Congress understand the consequences of an underfunded system!
The truth is that even with these boosts in funding, the overall financing of early learning remains weak. Only four states are paying providers rates at the 75th percentile of current market rate; even worse, there are 22 states whose rates are at the 75th percentile of 2001 market rates. That’s a 20-year lag! Further, since 2011, some states have left $178 million of federal funding on the table, which means that even more children and families don’t have the supports that will help them thrive.
We need to hold elected officials accountable for how they spend early childhood dollars.
Though I haven’t seen any exit polls on child care during the election cycle, we have all seen the ways in which candidates are trying to outdo each other with their bold child care agendas. They are hearing from families and educators who are helping them understand that parents and caregivers can’t pay more and early childhood educators can’t make less. I am bullish on our future.
Elections and the big changes they often bring are exciting—but I urge you to not wait for the next election cycle or for the next headline to grab our attention. There are decisions being made and funding being distributed right now in administrations and state houses across the country. We need you to push for the system to be fully funded—for states to pay for the actual cost of high-quality child care. We also need you to hold your elected officials accountable for clear and specific measures of change that ensure compensation for early childhood educators increases as public investments increase too. The data has your back on the importance of this—and so do I.
America for Early Ed offers many tools and resources to help you advocate for early childhood education, including
- Ways to contact your representatives
- Tips on building relationships with candidates and officials
- Phone bank scripts and resources
- Voter registration and Get Out the Vote materials
Early childhood education fact sheets, videos, and more To learn more, visit http://americaforearlyed.org/ take-action/resources/.
Rhian Evans Allvin is the chief executive officer of NAEYC. She is responsible for guiding the strategic direction of the organization as well as overseeing daily operations. Before joining NAEYC, Evans Allvin was a guiding force in Arizona’s early childhood movement for more than 15 years, including serving as CEO of Arizona's First Things First.