President Donald Trump made affordable child care part of his 2016 campaign platform, and in February he unveiled a proposal for child care tax deductions and credits to help ease the financial burden for working families.
But Republicans have been slow to take up the cause, and last week, Democrats beat them to a legislative solution, introducing a bill that would expand federal funds for early childhood education.
The Child Care for Working Families Act proposes doubling the number of children who now qualify for federal help. It also caps child care payments at no more than 7 percent of annual income for families making less than 150 percent of their state’s median income. For teachers, the bill requires more training and better pay.
In a Republican-controlled Congress, the Democrats’ bill might have little chance of gaining traction. But after the president’s recent willingness to deal with his political opponents on budget issues, Democrats might harbor hope he would work with them on child care, too.
Early childhood education, especially through federal programs like Head Start, largely has been considered an issue for Democrats. But conservatives also acknowledge the importance of quality child care, especially for poor families. They just disagree over how to pay for it and who should regulate programs.
Katharine Stevens, an early childhood policy expert at the American Enterprise Institute, told lawmakers in July any federal effort toward improving early education should amplify state-level innovation.
“Federal early childhood programs play a key role in addressing inequality of opportunity and lack of economic mobility for disadvantaged children,” she said in prepared testimony for the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. “Targeting investment to children’s earliest years is sensible policy because it aims to build a strong foundation in the first place rather than trying to fix expensive, preventable problems down the line. Too often, though, our thinking is limited by what currently exists, not driven by what we are actually trying to accomplish. We need new strategies to accomplish our core aim: promoting the well-being of lower-income children so they can grow into healthy, happy, productive citizens.”
But how best to do that? Democrats would like to see government’s role expanded in early childhood education, just as in higher education. Critics argue we should fix the public education system before giving it broader reach. Stevens noted the vast majority of child care comes from the private sector, creating an opportunity to encourage improvement in a market-based approach. If poor parents had the ability to choose the best program for their children, the number of high quality child care centers would increase to meet the demand.
Studies have cast doubt on the effectiveness of programs like Head Start, but that doesn’t mean education during a child’s earliest years isn’t important, Stevens told lawmakers. Almost two-thirds of mothers with children younger than 6 work outside the home, and 40 percent of those with infants younger than 12 months work full-time. Almost 11 million American children get care from someone other than their parents for an average of 33 hours a week. Because children are constantly learning at that age, child care amounts to education, Stevens argued. And high quality child care can make the difference between success and failure later in life.
“By 18 months, toddlers from low-income families can already be several months behind their more advantaged peers in language development,” Stevens noted. “One widely cited study found that by age 3, children with college-educated parents had vocabularies as much as three times larger than those of children whose parents did not complete high school—a gap so big, researchers concluded, that even the best intervention programs could at most keep the less-advantaged children from falling still further behind.”
Courtesy: WORLD News Service
Publication date: September 25, 2017