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Early Ed Watch

A Blog from New America's Early Education Initiative

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Child Care Legislation Heightens Emphasis on Quality

Published:  June 13, 2013

Last week, amidst the release of multiple reauthorization bills for No Child Left Behind, key members of the Senate produced a draft bill for reauthorization of the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG). Introduced by a bipartisan group of senators, including Democratic Senators Mikulski (MD) and Harkin (IA) and Republican Senators Burr (NC) and Alexander (TN), S. 1086 is somewhat more prescriptive than the last version of CCDBG, and a lot more focused on quality.

The legislation comes only a few weeks after the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released new draft regulations on the issue. The bill echoes many of HHS’ safety, quality, and workforce concerns, and expands on others.

The original law was designed primarily to provide low-income parents a way to reenter the workforce and last reauthorized 17 years ago. As a result, it includes few details or requirements on the quality of those child care settings. The new legislation would have many more specific requirements, including:

  • Better consumer information on child care providers, including details on inspections, health and safety violations and child injuries and deaths;
  • Background checks for all providers (long a pet project of Sen. Burr [R-NC]), and annual unannounced inspections;
  • Many specific health and safety requirements;
  • Limits on the child-to-provider ratio in programs, identified by the age group of the children served;
  • Provider training in social, emotional, physical and cognitive development, as well as state workforce standards with a career ladder for child care workers; and
  • State early learning guidelines that licensed providers follow and that are aligned with state K-3 standards.

States would have to prioritize access to early childhood education in high-poverty and high-unemployment areas, as well as areas with a dearth of high-quality early education options. The bill would also dictate more coordination with other early learning programs, including federally funded and state-funded pre-K and early childhood education.

And the 4 percent of funds that states currently set aside to improve child care quality would no longer be enough. Under the new CCDBG legislation, states would have to phase in higher levels of quality set-aside dollars until they reach 10 percent of funds in 2018 and every year thereafter. And though the original CCDBG legislation doesn’t give much indication as to how states should use the funds, the new bill has a lot of ideas, from professional development for providers, to the use of data for instruction, to implementing early learning guidelines and promoting participation in quality rating and improvement systems. (Some of these were also central to the HHS regulations.)

The legislation would make some other big changes, too. States couldn’t recalculate children’s eligibility for CCDBG-funded child care more than once a year, even if the parents’ work statuses changed in the interim. That would mean more stable child care settings for young kids. HHS proposed the same thing in its draft regulations last month.

And states would be required to set child care payment rates in accordance with a market survey each would conduct. That would mean families in any particular region of the state could afford child care that’s on par with non-CCDBG child care prices in the area. States are already supposed to ensure CCDBG payments are comparable to non-CCDBG, but the survey would provide a useful accountability benchmark.

The changes in the new CCDBG law are serious. They transform CCDBG from primarily a work program to a joint work-early education one. Though some of the requirements are still fairly hands-off from a federal perspective (HHS wouldn’t be allowed to require that providers get credentials, for example, or to mandate requirements of early learning guidelines -- those powers are reserved to the state), the bill could dramatically improve the quality of CCDBG-funded child care. The question now is whether Congress will be able to pass a law before the end of the year.

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