7 Ways Meaningful Investment in Child Care and Pre-K Can Help Families

By Alyssa Fortner 

In outlining an economic package in his State of the Union address, President Biden mentioned the urgency of providing child care for most children from birth through age five and universal preschool for three- and four-year-olds. This proposal will finally provide families access to affordable, high-quality, and inclusive child care and early education for their children. Affordable child care and early education will also have an impact on families’ economic wellbeing.

Here are 7 ways families would be helped by transformative investment, like the proposal, in child care and universal pre-K. 

1. Guaranteeing access to child care and early education.  

Under the president’s proposals, families with children under 6 would qualify for guaranteed child care assistance, and 3- and 4-year-olds would be eligible for universal pre-K.  Families would be eligible for child care assistance if they earn up to 2.5x state median income, i.e., for example, in Maryland, this would be $312,018. In addition, families would need to participate in a wide range of eligible activities including employment, job search, job training, education, health treatment, and family or medical leave, among others, to qualify for assistance.  

2. Increasing affordability and promoting economic stability.

In 32 states, a typical family’s child care costs would be lowered by $5-$6,000, and about five million families would pay nothing, if those families earn below 75 percent of state median income. No eligible families will pay more than 7 percent of their income on child care based on a sliding fee scale, regardless of the number of children they have. Many families will pay much less. Universal pre-K will be free for eligible children.  

3. Broadening accessibility.  

The package will increase the supply of child care in centers and homes so that it’s available when and where families need it. During the first three years after Congress enacts Biden’s proposals, a quarter to one-half of all funds will be dedicated to supply and quality building activities, including constructing and renovating facilities, covering operating costs, and more. The package also provides additional funding so existing eligible state pre-K programs can build supply, whether that’s new construction or improving existing facilities. 

4. Expanding choice and mixed delivery of services.

The president’s economic package would offer more autonomy and choice for parents looking for child care and pre-K programs. Under the child care proposal, most center-based, family child care, nontraditional hour care, and other providers of child care services are eligible to participate. This would give families more options to find the care environment that best suits their needs. Under the universal pre-K proposal, families can choose between pre-K in child care programs, schools, Head Start centers, or family-based settings.  

5. Prioritizing populations that are defined as “vulnerable” and “underserved.”

The package requires that states must prioritize child care and pre-K programs serving populations deemed “vulnerable” or “underserved.” These include children and families with low incomes, young children with disabilities, children experiencing homelessness, children in foster or kinship care, children whose families engage in migrant or seasonal agricultural labor, dual language learners and children who are receiving or need to receive child protective services or those residing with a parent who is 65 years or older. Additionally, states must certify that children with disabilities have access to preschool consistent with provisions in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to support inclusive pre-K programs. 

6. Ensuring high-quality care.

The quality of child care will be measured through a tiered system that sets age-appropriate quality standards for center-based care, family child care settings, and those offering nontraditional hours or serving children in multiple age groups. The standards that make up the highest tier of quality must, at a minimum, be equivalent to existing Head Start performance standards. The package also includes funds to ensure all pre-K programs are part of an evidenced-based system focused on continuous quality improvement. 

7. Addressing/advancing racial equity. 

The historical underinvestment in the child care and early learning field has disproportionately impacted families with low incomes and families of color. By instituting a child care guarantee and universal pre-K, President Biden’s proposal would substantially increase access for families of color. 

The high costs of care have had greater impact on Black, Hispanic, and immigrant families compared to other population groups. For example, 69 percent of Black and 72 percent of Hispanic working parents are more likely to face unaffordable child care compared to 60 percent of white working parents which is why the focus on lowering costs through this economic package is crucial. Under the proposal, states must prioritize funding to improve the quality and access to programs to communities that have been historically excluded.   

A large-scale transformative investment is long overdue for the system. The provisions included in President Biden’s proposal would provide the funding necessary to begin addressing inequities and build a sustainable system of high-quality child care and early education that works for all families. Congress must continue working toward passage of this crucial legislation that will help meet the needs of every family.