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Senate HELP Committee Gets Schooled on Child Care

U.S. Sen. Senator Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., held a hearing Sept. 8 on improving child-care quality that featured three experts in the field offering recommendations to improve the rules for states using federal child-care subsidies through the Child Care and Development Block Grant, or CCDBG, program.

One of the experts, Charlotte Brantley, president and CEO of Clayton Early Learning, shared her testimony with me by email. She noted that CCDBG is often "the glue that holds multiple funding streams together," as when child-care subsidy funds are used to extend the day and year for children enrolled in Head Start and/or state prekindergarten programs.

However, because child-care eligibility is assessed more often than eligibility for Head Start or state pre-K, and because it is tied to parents' employment (they must be working to be eligible), families can lose child-care in the middle of the year and their children's care and learning can be disrupted.

Brantley described a family now in Clayton's Educare program, whose two sons made big strides over a year of full-day programming, but then lost access when the father lost his job and became ineligible for child-care subsidy. While Educare was able to cover costs for the older son to stay in his preschool program for the summer months and transition smoothly to kindergarten, the younger son had to be pulled from his familiar full-day classroom and be assigned to a new teacher and students in a part-time program. Now the father only has three hours a day free of child-care responsibility in which to look for work, and the younger son's progress is in jeopardy, Brantley reported.

"We frankly question the wisdom of risking the public investment already made in this child by not allowing continued child-care funding to support bringing him across the finish line," she testified.

To solve this problem, Brantley recommended requiring states to limit or eliminate the number of times they redetermine eligibility within 12 months so children have at least one year of stable care before changes in their parents' income or employment status could alter their eligibility for programs.

Other recommendations from her testimony include: aligning eligibility periods with those of Head Start and/or publicly funded pre-K; supporting and strengthening Quality Rating and Improvement Systems, systems and offering states incentives to ensure high-risk children get access to top-tier program seats; and removing the voucher requirement and allowing parents to receive contracted slots to steer them to programs recognized for high-quality.

Finally, she recommended changing state reporting requirements to "measure what really matters: the number of children with child-care subsidies enrolled in higher quality settings, the number of parents that remain employed, progress among providers in achieving the higher ratings within a state's QRIS, the alignment of standards within a state across all early childhood settings, and the progress of teachers in achieving higher levels of professional preparation."

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