Democrats tackle early childhood education and care

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One of America's toughest kitchen-table issues received vital national attention on Sept. 14 when congressional Democrats introduced the Child Care for Working Families Act—a bold, ambitious national strategy to place affordable, high-quality preschool and child care within the reach and the budgets of millions of families.

With the average cost of child care now exceeding the price tag of in-state public college tuition in 33 states and Washington, D.C., the time is now for a "bold and comprehensive plan that will tackle the skyrocketing cost of child care," said Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) as she introduced the legislation, flanked by Democratic leaders from both chambers.

The Democrats' approach puts family affordability at the heart of their efforts, along with resources to properly prepare and compensate preschool and early care providers. These professionals "should not have to enroll in public assistance to make ends meet," said Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), who co-authored the bill.

"Expanding child care and preschool would be a game changer for children and families in our country," said AFT President Randi Weingarten in a statement. "The Child Care for Working Families Act would tear down the barriers facing too many parents who can't afford, or can't find, high-quality child care and preschool programs, [and] makes investments in the early childhood workforce to increase wages for educators and ensure they have the supports and professional development they need."

Among the highlights of the Child Care for Working Families Act:

  • language to help ensure that no low-income or middle-class family pays more than 7 percent of income on child care;
  • funding to help states attract and retain highly qualified professionals by awarding scholarships, providing training and professional development, and increasing worker compensation;
  • resources to help states reach universal pre-K;
  • help for families needing high-quality child care during nontraditional hours and in a variety of settings;
  • funds to boost the supply of hard-to-find, hard-to-afford quality care for infants; and
  • additional funding tailored to child care for children with disabilities.

There is no question that the resources called for in the legislation are aimed at a national priority, one that spans the political spectrum. Recent national polling shows that more than six in seven parents believe high-quality preschool for all 3- and 4-year-olds is a priority.

[AFT staff report]