On February 6, Julie Kashen, TCF’s director of women’s economic justice and a senior fellow, and her colleague Levi Bohanan, a policy entrepreneur at Next100, submitted written testimony to the Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education Subcommittee, a part of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Education and Labor. In that testimony, a version of which can be read below, Kashen and Bohanan applaud the subcommittee for their interest in promoting the right to equitable, high-quality care for all families and supporting early educators; outline the principles that undergird any policy that would successfully provide that right; and describe why the Child Care for Working Families Act meets those criteria, and deserves the subcommittee’s support.
What could be more fundamental to American communities than how we care for our children? Picture the newborn snuggling with her mom. Imagine a baby smiling at his dad for the first time, or the joy when a toddler takes her first steps or says his first word. Think about the power of the love and the bonds that parents have with their children at every age. The collective journey of democracy means we must care for each other, support parents, and support the most vulnerable members of our society, including children. It is immoral to do anything else. Thank you to the subcommittee for prioritizing this issue and ensuring that Congress focuses on ensuring high-quality child care options that don’t break the bank, in every community.
Today, too many families cannot find affordable, high-quality child care options when and where they need them. This impacts children’s well-being and preparedness for school and parents’ ability to work or go to school. The burden falls disproportionately on mothers, since women do more of the unpaid work within the home, including spending more time caring for children than men—even men with similar demographic backgrounds and parental status. Single-parent and lower-income families are hit especially hard. Communities of color also often have less access to great child care options, so the lack of comprehensive child care solutions exacerbates racial inequities, since high-quality care can lead to better school, life, and work outcomes. Smart child care policies are not only the right thing to do; they are also a pathway to progress on gender, racial, and income equality; child development and family well-being; educational outcomes; and economic growth.
Smart child care policies are not only the right thing to do; they are also a pathway to progress on gender, racial, and income equality; child development and family well-being; educational outcomes; and economic growth.
Smart child care and early education policies must employ a social justice lens, so that they (1) address affordability and availability for families, (2) ensure that child care jobs are good jobs, with good wages and benefits and the right to organize, (3) implement quality-assurance measures with the resources to improve quality and sensitivity to cultural differences in defining quality, (4) address the continuum of care, starting at birth and including the needs of school-age children and children with disabilities, and (5) are available when and where families need it.
The Child Care for Working Families Act is a great example of a policy proposal that will meet the needs of families, taking into account equity goals. It guarantees high-quality child care and early education for ages 0–13, as well as for older children with disabilities. It makes child care and early education affordable and accessible to everyone, and makes the significant public investment necessary to meet families’ needs. By providing financial assistance for child care on a sliding scale based on income, it is inclusive of all families while targeting populations who historically have been oppressed or denied resources.
The bill would serve the diverse needs and preferences of families, including culturally and linguistically competent care options, home-based care, and care during non-standard hours that is available when and where families need it (weekends, after school, nights, when job schedules change, and in areas that are currently child care deserts). It also addresses the embarrassingly poor wages paid to early educators who deserve to be paid well, use their individual voices on the job, and have the freedom to join a professional organization like a union; and reflects the diversity of families served. Ensuring that child care jobs are good jobs is key to addressing child care quality, and this provision goes hand in hand with bill’s provisions to ensure that child care providers get the funding they need to improve the overall quality of the programs they offer.
There is widespread support for these types of comprehensive reforms. A 2018 poll, fielded by GBA Strategies, showed that 77 percent of voters support congressional action to increase child care assistance and expand early education. Support for the specifics of the Child Care for Working Families Act is even stronger than support for the issue generally. The poll found 83 percent of voters support guaranteeing child care assistance to low-income and middle-class families on a sliding scale based on household income, more than doubling the number of children eligible.
And it’s not just passive support. In 2018, more than 250 parents, teachers, caregivers, and advocates from twenty-five states gathered in Washington, D.C. for the first ever Grassroots Assembly for Child Care and Early Education. Hosted by the Early Care and Education Organizing Network, a network of more than twenty national organizations representing millions of members, the diverse convening brought together individuals to learn from each other, plan together, exchange information about local organizing efforts, and share concerns and information with elected leaders. Since then, the Grassroots Movement for Child Care and Early Education, a network of leaders across the country committed to policy action on child care and early education, has been working to mobilize and build momentum for national progress.
Thank you to the members of Congress who are listening and prioritizing child care for all. It’s long past time for Congress to act.