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U.S. Senate Approves Child Care Block Grant Bill

The Child Care and Development Block Grant program would get a makeover for the first time since the mid-1990's, under a measure that sailed through the U.S. Senate amid much bipartisan backslapping and self-congratulation.

The Child Care bill, which passed 97 to 1, is one of the first bipartisan education measures to clear the chamber recently, giving some advocates hope that Congress may finally be able to tackle the lengthy logjam on education issues.

The CCDBG program was initially designed as a way to help low-income parents cover the cost of child care so that they could go to work or further their education. The Senate bill doesn't seek to dramatically expand the scope of the program, but it would add a new focus on program quality and safety. 

For instance, under the bill, states would be required to conduct comprehensive background checks on childcare providers, something only about a dozen states call for now. And the measure would require states to visit providers before giving them a license, as well as conduct annual inspections of both centers and home-based providers.

It would also require states to set aside a greater portion of their own funds for program improvement, 10 percent, up from the current 4 percent. The additional funds could be used for a range of activities, such as beefing up training for providers, and making available "consumer information" to parents so that they can compare different providers. Many states are already engaging in such activities, and there's much more information in this story.

It's unclear how quickly the U.S. House of Representatives will take up the measure. Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., the chairman of the House education committee, has said the Senate measure could be a good starting point for discussion. It may not be a political slam dunk, though. The Senate-passed bill includes intentionally vague language on future funding levels to ensure bipartisan support. But House leaders aren't fans of such provisions, and they've stalled other education legislation, including the renewal of Education Sciences Research Act, that included them.

Still, Kline put out a laudatory statement on the bill soon after its passage, signaling he's ready to move forward, and will hold a hearing on CCDBG on March 25.

"Senate passage of legislation to reauthorize the Child Care and Development Block Grant is a step forward in the shared goal of strengthening the nation's existing network of early childhood services," Kline said. "The bill includes several commonsense provisions that will help empower parents and enhance coordination between CCDBG and other federal early care programs, such as Head Start."

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