Largely overlooked amid the struggles on Capitol Hill over immigration, drug prices, and paid family leave, the Democrats’ plan to transform how the nation provides childcare stands out as one of the most expensive arrangements. and radicals of their $ 1.85 trillion bill social safety net.
At a cost of $ 390 billion, the proposal would provide universal access to kindergarten for 3- and 4-year-olds – the largest expansion of free education since the addition of public high school some 100 years ago. It would also subsidize the cost of childcare for the vast majority of parents with a child under 6.
Together, the provisions would transform early childhood education and childcare in the United States from a disparate private network that favors the rich into a taxpayer-funded system that could ease the burden on millions of working parents and low-income families. Democrats are starting to focus on childcare arrangements as a generational shift that will resonate with voters.
“This is legacy stuff,” said Melissa Boteach, vice president of the National Women’s Law Center. “When you reconceive childcare as a public good, which this bill does, you understand that it is unsustainable for parents. And suppliers are already earning poverty wages. The way you break that nut is with large-scale public investment. “
Democrats argue that parents – usually mothers – cannot fully participate in the workforce if their children are not in affordable, high-quality care programs.
They also indicate a significant disparity between the United States and other developed Western countries that provide preschool. As of 2019, only about half of American 3- and 4-year-olds were enrolled in kindergarten. according to federal statistics.
“I have had kindergarten teachers who told me that, on the first day of school, they have children who cannot turn a page in a book or pick up a pencil. They automatically start way back, “said Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.), A former kindergarten teacher who has championed politics for decades. She introduced the legislation alongside Rep. Robert C. Scott (D-Va.) .
Republicans argue that the proposal allows the government to take control of decisions best left to parents. With next year’s mid-term elections in mind, they say it fits into a broader narrative of Democrat interference in education, such as closing the pandemic and school mask mandates.
“The Biden administration wants to plug into intimate family decisions and tell parents how to care for their children,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) Said. “Democrats want to sweep the first five years of children’s lives into a new set of top-down, one-size-fits-all, Washington-knows-best regulations.”
Several Republicans have complained that the policy would exclude faith-based preschool or daycare programs.
But under the plan, any program would be able to participate as long as it meets state and federal requirements and childcare centers and parents could choose not to participate.
Republicans say those federal parameters would still leave some people out, such as childcare centers not wanting to comply with the new rules or families where grandparents provide childcare or a parent chooses not to work outside the home.
Murray said the change is long overdue and is especially needed during the pandemic.
“We have a country where women cannot be at work. We have employers looking for skilled workers, “he said.” The way we support families, the way we value families and the way we make sure families are safe in this country is by removing barriers. that they keep [women] from being able to do what they need to take care of their families. “
Childcare and preschool policies will take time to fully implement and will only be in place until 2027, a constraint that will make timely and successful implementation politically important for Democrats, who will want to ensure that a future Congress feels political pressure to renew it.
“You won’t be able to take your child to daycare next week or next year,” said Representative Jackie Speier (D-Hillsborough). “It is the nature of doing something that is so transformative. We will all have to prepare, but the time to do these things is so far away for us. “
In a bill that was essentially cut from what the Democrats had originally hoped to enact, childcare policies have been relatively well protected and not controversial among Democrats.
Under the proposed policy, all children aged 3 and 4, including those without legal status, access to asylum would be guaranteed regardless of parental income, the largest expansion of universal and free education since the localities established the public high school a century ago, according to the National Women’s Law Center. However, preschool attendance would be voluntary.
Additionally, parents of a child under 6 earning up to 2.5 times the median state income – or about $ 233,760 for a family of four in California this year – would be provided with assistance on a sliding scale to help cover the costs of childcare. , limited to 7% of their income.
The result would be a reduction in childcare costs for more than 90 percent of families with young children, according to a group of child advocacy organizations that support the bill.
States would decide whether to participate in the program. An accepting state or region would model policy within federal parameters.
In general, policymakers expect states to establish systems where parents can choose from a list of participating childcare centers. The grants would go directly from the federal government to the childcare center on behalf of the eligible parent. Alternatively, parents could get a coupon to pay their childcare provider directly.
A spokesperson for Gov. Gavin Newsom said he “looks forward to using federal dollars to build California’s child care program.”
Earlier this year, California approved a universal program for 4-year-oldswhich is mainly based on public schools, unlike the federal plan, which would be based on a mixed system of schools of various kinds.
According to Linda Asato, executive director of the California Child Care Resource & Referral Network, an educational policy organization, the combination of state and federal programs could provide Californians with access to many different pre-K locations.
“It helps California expand its preschool vision to include more community-based organizations,” Asato said. It would allow the state to expand the nursery in a way it can’t do now, he said.
Aware that many Republican-led states have decided not to participate in Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, Democrats have said that if a state refuses to use the program, a location may still do so.
Participating child care centers – be they daycare centers, public schools, religious institutions or job placement programs – should operate within federal parameters, which would be spelled out more explicitly by the Biden administration.
Federal and state regulations would determine details such as preschool day and year length and academic requirements for some teachers.
In an effort to address the acute shortage of workers, employers should also provide living wages comparable to those of elementary school workers with similar credentials.
Due to the shortage of workers, full implementation would take time and costs for parenting childcare could rise Before grants become fully effective, as suppliers hire more staff and meet new educational requirements.
If the program launches next year as planned, only households making below the state median income – $ 93,504 for a family of four in California this year – could be eligible for subsidies. Supporters of the plan expect the additional costs to parents to be offset when the benefits are distributed across all income levels.
The closure of schools and daycare centers caused by the pandemic has brought more focus to the problems of the childcare sector, particularly the low wages that have driven people away from the profession.
The national median wage for an early childhood worker was between $ 11.65 and $ 14.67 per hour before the pandemic, according to the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment at UC Berkeley. The industry has not yet recovered.
Nurseries have not raised wages because doing so could raise prices beyond the reach of many parents.
“What this bill does is solve this market failure,” said Julie Kashen, director and senior member of the Century Foundation. “The government is coming in and says we will solve this problem by putting money to raise wages for early educators and lower costs for parents.”