A Vision for Financing a High-Quality Child Care and Early Education System

The Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine reports that an additional $53 billion in public and private resources annually would be required to fully fund a national, high-quality child care and early education system.

Transforming the Financing of Early Care and Education models the costs of a system that attracts, retains, and adequately compensates a qualified workforce; provides affordable, equitable access to high-quality programs; and funds quality supports robustly and consistently. For the study’s purposes, quality includes lead teachers with Bachelor’s degrees, coaching and mentoring available within programs, paid professional development and planning time, and specialists available to meet the developmental needs of individual children. The model assumes that families earning less than 50 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL) would pay nothing for quality child care, with an increasing family contribution as income increases. These findings assume more families would choose quality child care in center-based programs while acknowledging some would continue to choose family child care.

Researchers recommended the following to move toward their proposed vision:

  • Consistent high-quality standards at the state and federal levels, with funding linked to standards and payment rates that fully cover the cost of quality.
  • Access and eligibility policies that are based on the child’s needs, rather than the parent’s employment or income status. Families should pay a progressively increasing share of costs as income increases, with the balance of the cost covered with public resources.
  • State governments that demonstrate readiness, resources, and structure taking on the role of coordinating funding streams at the state level.
  • Increased state and federal investments in high-quality child care and early education;
  • Public and private collaboration to develop business plans.
  • Investments in professional development through financial assistance, including no-cost professional development for incumbent teachers and assistance for new teachers.
  • Improving postsecondary early childhood education programs, including faculty, practice, and curricula.
  • Strengthened research and evaluation as well as alignment of federal data collection across early childhood programs.

The report did not propose a timeframe for our current state and federal systems to reach the vision described. But as a nation, we must take significant steps toward financing a comprehensive system that supports the needs of young children, their working parents, and the skilled workforce that teaches them at their most critical ages.

A recent Congressional budget agreement did promise $5.8 billion over two years, doubling the discretionary funding for the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG). And the Child Care for Working Families Act has been introduced by Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Senator Bob Casey (D-PA), Representative Jared Polis (D-CO), and Representative Bobby Scott (D-VA). This study provides one vision for how those important steps could lead to a stronger early childhood system and what it would cost in total.

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