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Early Ed Watch

A Blog from New America's Early Education Initiative

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Zooming in on the Child Care Boost in Obama’s Budget

Published:  February 23, 2012

When President Obama released his fiscal year 2013 budget request earlier this month, one proposal that caught our eye was $6.02 billion – an additional $825 million over 2012 levels – for the Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF).

The Child Care and Development Fund is comprised of two main components: a mandatory and a discretionary funding stream.  The mandatory side provides child care grants to states, which are required to match the grant amount, and funding for tribal child care programs. Congress must approve any rise in the mandatory funding level through a reauthorization bill, but once that happens, those funding levels are not subject to the ups-and-downs that can come with the annual appropriations process.  Discretionary funds, on the other hand, are issued through the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) and are appropriated during Congress’ often-volatile appropriations process.

The president’s budget proposal would increase CCDF spending on the mandatory side by $500 million, totaling $3.417 billion in fiscal year 2013. (Mandatory funding in fiscal year 2012 totaled $2.917 billion. A table we published last week shows how the funding requests compare to what Congress approved last year.)

On the discretionary side, the president’s request would increase child care spending through the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) program by $325 million. The bulk of that, $300 million, would be dedicated to a new Child Care Quality Initiative. Under the proposal, states would be asked to submit a plan for using Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS) or other quality indicators systems to help low-income families identify and enroll in quality early learning programs. Those states would be eligible for formula funding above and beyond what they already receive from CCDBG. In addition, a portion of the funds would be reserved for competitive awards to states with the strongest commitment to implementing a QRIS. (No word yet on exactly what proportion of the money would be dedicated to this competitive grant program.) A third portion of the fund is earmarked to evaluate the efficacy of various factors on improving program quality, but no details are available on how that would work.

As we’ve written in the past, QRIS have been a big part of the administration’s early learning platform, although evidence is mixed so far as to the value of those systems. And the objectives of the $300 million initiative are quite ambitious for a relatively small amount of money. However, we appreciate the White House’s efforts to maintain, and even increase, child care funding in what is shaping up to be another difficult budget year.

In spite of the funding increases, many states still will not be able to make up for the expiration of stimulus funds for childcare in 2011. American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds supported as many as 1.7 million children over the past two years, and were available through fiscal year 2011. Since then, many states have had to cut education and social services programs to fill holes in their budgets. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the added funds will support 70,000 children who would not otherwise receive CCDF services this year.

Keep in mind, though, that the president’s request is just that – subject to the sluggish congressional appropriations process and further hampered by the political considerations of budgeting in an election year. It provides some interesting insight into the White House’s early childhood priorities but it is virtually guaranteed not to become law as is. It should also be noted that the Budget Control Act of 2011 included sequestration orders that would apply an automatic rescission to discretionary non-defense spending (including the Child Care and Development Block Grant, but excluding the Child Care Development Fund’s mandatory funding streams). The president’s request, which lays out what he wants Congress to approve in its appropriations bill, includes language that would cancel the sequesters. Whether Congress will go along remains to be seen.

For more information on the president’s budget proposal, check out our earlier blog post.  You can also find the Education Policy Program’s “Key Questions on the Obama Administration’s 2013 Budget Request” here, and a summary and analysis of the president’s education request here.

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