In the Nation's Interest

Bipartisan Child Care Bill Enacted to Assist Working Families

Last week in Washington, President Obama signed into law the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) Act of 2014 (PL 113-186). Enactment of the legislation was historic because it has been 18 years since child care legislation was last reauthorized (renewed). 

At a time when Congress is often polarized, a bipartisan group of Senators and House members came together in a bipartisan manner to support the child care needs of working families.  Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) held four hearings over the past several years and introduced legislation in June of 2013. With the support of Senators Tom Harkin (D-IA), the Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee and Lamar Alexander (R-TN), the Ranking Member of the Senate HELP Committee, the measure moved forward through the legislative process and was approved by the Senate in March by a vote of 96-2. This summer, the Chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, John Kline (R-MN) and Ranking Member George Miller (D-CA), led bipartisan negotiations based on the Senate passed bill with colleagues Todd Rokita (R-IN) and David Loebsack (D-IA), Chair and Ranking member respectively of the House Education and Workforce Subcommittee on Early Childhood. At any point, progress on the legislation could have been derailed by partisan politics or chamber politics, but to the credit of the policymakers involved, the negotiations resulted in a bipartisan bill approved by the House of Representatives on September 15th and the Senate on November 17th.

The President held a small ceremony in the Oval Office on November 19th where Congressional leaders on child care, HHS Secretary Burwell, and two parents who worked hard over the past several years to strengthen the quality of child care stood by his desk to watch the historic event.

CCDBG allocates funds to states to help low income families afford the cost of child care and to invest in activities such as child care provider training that improve the quality of care. Throughout the country, parents struggle to find and afford child care and too often, the quality of care is questionable.  The new law sets minimum health and safety protections for children. It requires fingerprint background checks for child care providers to ensure that no one with a criminal history is licensed to care for children, works in a licensed child care program, or is unlicensed but receives a child care subsidy to care for low income children. The measure strengthens the child care workforce by requiring training related to the social, emotional, physical and cognitive development of children. And, it promotes accountability by requiring at least one annual inspection to promote child safety.

Many child care programs are led by directors who have a background in child development, but not business.  Yet, child care programs are a small business. Unless they are fiscally sound, they won’t offer quality programs – despite child development training for staff.  The new law requires states to describe how they will make business technical assistance available so that child care programs use business best practices.

CED has long advocated for quality child care.  Research shows that children in high quality child care are more likely to start school ready to succeed, particularly low income children.  And, children who start school ready to succeed are more likely to perform on grade level, graduate from high school and be college or career ready.  Employers know that quality child care is the early investment needed on the road to a skilled workforce.

Past CED early learning and child care reports include: Education for the Urban Disadvantaged: From Preschool to Employment (1971); Investing in Our Children: Business and the Public Schools (1985); Children in Need: Investment Strategies for the Economically Disadvantaged (1987);  An America that Works: The Life-Cycle Approach to a Competitive Workforce (1990);  Preschool for All: Investing in a Productive and Just Society (2002);  Why Child Care Matters: Preparing Young Children for a More Productive America (1993); Developmental Education: The Value of High Quality Preschool Investments as Economic Tools (2004); The Economic Promise of Investing in High Quality Preschool: Using Early Education to Improve Economic Growth & the Fiscal Sustainability of States and the Nation (2006); and most recently, Unfinished Business: Continued Investment in Child Care and Early Education is Critical to Business and America’s Future (2012). 

“High quality child care is important to parents and to employers,” said Michael Petro, Executive Vice President at CED. “Parents need to know that their children are in a safe setting that will promote their healthy development. Past research has shown that quality child care leads to fewer employee absences and greater productivity as employees focus on their work. Investing in early learning settings is an investment in our future workforce, which makes employers a key stakeholder in quality child care.”

At this point, states will need to review the new law and compare it to state policies. To the extent there are gaps, states will spend the next year considering options for compliance.  To review a summary of the new law, click here.
 

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