Senator Patty Murray and Representative Bobby Scott have reintroduced the Child Care for Working Families Act. This act comprehensively improves our nation’s early care and learning system through much-needed investments and expanded access to affordable, high-quality early learning programs.
We know the brain develops more rapidly in the first five years of a child’s life than at any other point. When a child has access to quality early childhood development and learning opportunities, they receive the supportive environments needed to promote self-confidence and foster a love of learning that translates to future academic achievement and successful transitions into adulthood.
Despite this, this nation’s early learning and care system has long been underfunded and inadequate. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated these issues, with many providers facing permanent closures in a system that with inadequate supply and many parents, primarily mothers, quitting their jobs to fill in the gaps of an insufficient system. Even when child care slots are available, the cost is often out of reach for many families, with center-based child care for infants costing more than public tuition in 34 states and the District of Columbia. few children have access to affordable quality early care and learning opportunities, and too many workers in the early care and learning workforce earn low wages.
The persistent problems and underinvestment in our nation’s early learning and care system stem from racial injustice. While Black children enroll in Early Childhood Education ECE at similar rates to their White peers, the quality of their preschool experiences differs, with Black children, on average, attending programs of lower quality. Additionally, 40% of the child care workforce are women of color, and on average, early educators face rates of poverty 7.7 times higher than teachers in K-8 school systems. A focus and commitment to equity and racial justice can solve these problems. We need to ensure that all children have access to high-quality environments and that Black and Brown women supporting the care of our children receive equitable and just compensation.
The Child Care for Working Families Act would take a huge step forward in addressing the nation’s child care crisis. Specifically, the bill would:
- Cap child care costs at 7% of income for working families and make child care free for the lowest income families
- Improve the quality and supply of child care by supporting child care for children who are dual-language learners, children experiencing homelessness, and children in foster care as well as increasing care options for children who receive care during non-traditional hours;
- Expand access to high-quality preschool programs; and
- Support living wages for child care workers.
Last week, the House passed a bill that would cut federal spending and reduce investments early care and learning programs, that could lead to 200,000 fewer children enrolled in Head Start and 180,000 children losing their child care subsidy. We should be expanding investments in children, not reducing them. When too few children have access to quality and affordable care, the Child Care for Working Families Act and the critical investments it would provide are needed now more than ever.
Children’s Defense Fund is proud to endorse this legislation and is committed to working towards an equitable and accessible early learning and care system that this legislation can provide as we envision a nation where marginalized children flourish, leaders prioritize their well-being, and communities wield the power to ensure they thrive.