Administration Reverses a Decade of Indifference

February 01, 2010 | Hannah Matthews and Danielle Ewen

Budget Proposal Expands Quality Child Care and Early Education Opportunities

President Obama, on February 1, presented his FY 2011 budget proposal to Congress. The document offers a blueprint of the president's spending priorities for the coming year. This budget reflects the administration's understanding of the importance of quality child care and early education experiences for young children and its intention to expand and improve the quality of the early childhood system in a coordinated way. Specifically, the budget calls for:

  • $1.6 billion increase for the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG), including $373 million for quality activities of which $137 million is targeted for activities that improve the quality of infant/toddler care;
  • $989 million increase for Head Start, including Early Head Start;
  • $3 billion increase for programs authorized under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA); and
  • nearly $9 billion over ten years for the proposed Early Learning Challenge Fund.

In addition, the budget calls for expanding the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit; funding to reauthorize the Child Nutrition programs, including the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP); and funding for Promise Neighborhoods and 21st Century Community Learning Centers.The budget provides $50 million for a State Paid Leave fund, which is intended to provide competitive grants to assist in the start up of new paid family leave insurance programs in the states.

Importantly, the budget also seeks to build on investments made through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) to continue moving the country on a path to economic recovery. This includes funding for a bill to support job creation for individuals and expand emergency assistance to the most vulnerable families affected by the recession. Further, it provides fiscal relief to states struggling in the recession by increasing the federal match rate (FMAP) for Medicaid reimbursement to help states maintain their Medicaid programs without crippling budgets.

Expansions in Core Child Care and Early Education Programs

The largest federal child care and early education programs are the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) and Head Start. The president's budget recognizes that these programs are central to the early childhood system and requests increases that continue funding made available through the ARRA.

The budget proposes a $1.6 billion permanent increase for CCDBG to provide assistance for 235,000 children. If Congress acts on this request, it would be the single largest increase in CCDBG funding in more than 20 years. This important investment could not come at a more urgent time. Child care is critical to families returning to work after the economic recession, yet low-income families cannot afford the care they need without help. The President proposes the funding be comprised of:

  • $800 million in discretionary funding, which does not require a state match and would be subject to the annual appropriations process. The proposal requests $373 million for quality activities, including $137 million for activities that improve the quality of infant/toddler care. This proposal is an increase in the overall quality set-aside and the infant/toddler earmark from current levels.
  • $800 million in mandatory funding, requiring a state match, which signals the president's intent to move forward with a long-overdue reauthorization of the federal program.

The president's budget also shows an interest in increasing access to high-quality programs by proposing new accountability measures that will examine how many children are served under federal eligibility rules and will track states that invest in quality rating and improvement systems.

The budget proposes a $989 million increase for Head Start to provide services for 66,500 children. The increase in Head Start will sustain efforts to expand Head Start and Early Head Start begun through the ARRA and bolster the administration's efforts to improve the quality of Head Start, ensure alignment both with other early childhood programs and through early elementary school, and build on the efforts in states to create Early Childhood Advisory Councils with $100 million in one-time only funding still available through ARRA.

Expanding in these core child care and early education programs will be critical to support the president's landmark early childhood initiative, the Early Learning Challenge Fund, which seeks to challenge states to improve quality across early childhood settings and increase the number of low-income children in high-quality settings. Child care is the bedrock of our country's early childhood system and any efforts to make systematic improvements in quality will require resources for child care. To date, the Early Learning Challenge Fund has been passed in the House but has not yet been introduced in the Senate. The President's budget assumes passage in FY 2010 and proposes funding of approximately $9 billion over ten years.

Finally, the budget includes funding for a new plan to help middle class families struggling during the economic recession. This plan signals an important recognition that the struggle to meet the high costs of child care is not limited to low-income earners. The budget includes a near doubling of the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit, which provides a critical income support to middle-income families. Coupled with congressional proposals to index the credit to inflation and make it refundable for low-income families with limited tax liability, this expansion will be important to help families with lower earnings afford high-quality child care.

Expansions in Education Funding

The president's FY 2011 budget proposal includes a significant increase in education funding intended to further the president's reform agenda, including expanding Race to the Top grants, and renewing the ESEA law. It is unclear, however, whether supports for early childhood will be included in these reforms. The budget requests an additional $3 billion for programs funded under ESEA and an additional $1 billion if Congress enacts a major overhaul of the law. This amount is the largest increase ever requested for ESEA programs. Unfortunately, the president's request does not increase funding for IDEA Part B or Part C, which provide important early intervention services for children prior to school and have been inadequately funded in past years. The President's proposal signals a desire to undertake a major restructuring of the federal education programs, which includes the consolidation of existing programs such as 21st Century Community Learning Centers and Even Start. Any efforts to change the later program should continue to retain a comprehensive approach to family literacy that has been central to the Even Start program.     

Enactment of the President's full education agenda is contingent upon Congress acting to reauthorize ESEA. Such action should ensure that investments through ESEA in early childhood at the state and local level are part of the comprehensive and coordinated planning for birth to eight systems that are being funded and developed through federal, state, and private efforts across the country. ESEA funded programs can be coordinated with other funding streams, including child care, Head Start, early intervention, state pre-kindergarten, and the proposed Early Learning Challenge Fund to expand, not duplicate, the availability of high-quality early childhood programs. Moreover, efforts to consolidate existing programs or increase competition should both protect investments in early childhood education at the state and local levels and ensure that schools serving low-income children have adequate resources to fairly compete for funds. 

The Education funding requests also includes a $210 million increase for the Promise Neighborhoods initiative, which would provide funding for comprehensive education and social services for children from birth through college. This represents a significant increase from the $10 million in planning grants that was enacted in FY 2010 for Promise Neighborhoods. As the Promise Neighborhoods program implements the President's place-based approach to lasting change, permanent funding for high-quality, full-day and full-year early childhood programs should be included in the project design and approach. 

Conclusion

The administration's FY 2011 budget proposal represents a blueprint for the vision that President Obama would like to put in place. It is clear that high-quality, comprehensive early childhood programs that serve the needs of vulnerable children and their families are at the forefront of that vision.  

Now it is time for Congress to act to provide the resources needed to ensure that low-income children have access to the high-quality early childhood programs they need to succeed. We look forward to working with Congress and the Administration to improve the Child Care and Development Block Grant, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and Head Start and Early Head Start.

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