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Advocates to Congress: Increase Dollars, Not Just Quality, for Child Care Grants

The Child Care and Development Block Grant program, which hasn't gotten a makeover since 1996, is slated to finally go to the floor of the U.S. Senate soon (maybe even as soon as next week). The chamber will consider a bipartisan bill that sailed through the Senate education committee last summer. It's focused on improving the quality of childcare programs covered by the grants (through steps like requiring background checks for staff). Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., the chairman of the House education committee has had nice things to say about the legislation.

So a real-deal, honest-to-goodness bipartisan early childhood bill could actually make it past the finish line this year. Are early education advocates dancing in the streets? Well...not quite yet.

A coalition of more than 30 education advocacy groups—including such diverse organizations as the American Federation of Teachers (a union) and Stand for Children (considered more of a "reform" organization)—sent a letter last week to Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, the chairman of the committee that oversees education policy, and Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the top Republican on the panel. They essentially say, hey, we really like your bill and we will support its passage. But, at the same time, we hope you're planning to funnel more money to CCDBG, to help programs and states cover the costs of the new quality improvements.

Here's a snippet from the letter:

While we strongly support the goals of this legislation, achieving these goals will require additional resources. These resources would be a worthwhile investment because stable, high-quality child care enables parents to work and children to learn and grow. Yet 260,000 fewer eligible children received assistance through the Child Care and Development Block Grant in 2012 than in 2006, according to a recent study by the Center for Law and Social Policy. In addition, payment rates for child care providers have stagnated in most states. To reverse the decline in children served and to successfully implement the much-needed improvements included in this legislation, we urge Congress to increase mandatory and discretionary child care funding.  

The CCDBG reauthorization bill would encourage think more carefully about program quality. States now have to allocate 4 percent of their funding to improve programs. That percentage would gradually increase to 10 percent by 2018 under the legislation.

States would have to be much more explicit about how they were using those dollars--choosing from a broad range of options that includes beefing up staff training and giving parents more "consumer information" to help them compare different providers. Much more here.

But the legislation doesn't appear to authorize (Congress-speak for "ask for") new funding. Instead it just says that CCDBG will receive "such sums as necessary" (Congress-speak for "we'll figure it out later"). CCDBG, which gets about gets about $5.2 billion a year in federal funding, plus state matching funds got a relatively small boost of $154 million in the fiscal year 2014 spending bill, the most recent to clear Congress. But that hike—though appreciated—isn't enough to meet new quality standards, while also meeting rising demand for the program, advocates say. 

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