New Child Care Funds, New Opportunities for Equity

By Shiva Sethi

This year’s increase in federal child care funds offers states an opportunity to take bold steps toward achieving racial equity in their child care assistance programs. On a recent webinar, state and national experts discussed that opportunity and shared how some states are already advancing racial equity in their child care systems.

Disparities by race and ethnicity pervade child care and early education. According to our analysis of 2011-13 Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) data, fewer eligible Hispanic, American Indian, Native Alaskan, and Asian children received CCDBG subsidies than the national average. Race also factors significantly in child care and early education suspensions; fewer than 20 percent of public preschoolers are Black but these children receive 42 percent of all first-time suspensions from those programs. Moreover, race affects compensation, as well. Early educators of color are often relegated to the lowest-paying positions in child care centers and are paid, on average, 84 cents for every dollar their white colleagues make.

Immigrant families struggle with both real and perceived barriers in seeking access to child care. Although many providers and advocates know that U.S.-born children in immigrant families have access to child care subsidies, their families may not know they are eligible or may be afraid to enroll. Promoting and protecting immigrant access to child care is especially important in light of recent anti-immigrant policies and attacks on immigrant access to benefits.

States and advocates are using many approaches to make their child care systems more equitable. In Oregon, the new CCDBG funds prompted the state to launch an initiative called Baby Promise. This initiative uses contracting, professional development, and pilot programs to sustainably expand access to high-quality infant and toddler care for low-income populations, including African American, Latinx, and homeless families, and other groups. In Wisconsin, the advocacy group Kids Forward committed to disaggregating its data by race and ethnicity whenever possible after discovering that Wisconsin ranked last in African American child well-being in a 46-state survey. Disaggregated data will help Kids Forward advocate for more aggressive state action to combat disparities. 

As part of our commitment to advancing racial equity, CLASP will be updating our nationwide analysis of CCDBG access by race and ethnicity in the fall. We encourage policymakers and advocates to combat disparities by using data to learn about the families participating in their child care systems, to lead with the voices of affected people while defining problems and crafting solutions, and to apply an equity lens throughout the policymaking process. The disparity gap is neither inevitable nor irreversible, but it will take concerted resources and effort to close it. 

The webinar Equity Right from the Start: Addressing Access to Quality for Infants & Toddlers was part of Building Strong Foundations, a series of webinars and blogs for state policy leaders, decisionmakers and advocates, developed in partnership with ZERO TO THREE and the BUILD Initiative, with funding from the Pritzker Children’s Initiative, a project of the JB and MK Pritzker Family Foundation. For more information and webinar recordings, click here.