Bill plans the largest public education expansion in a century

Largely overlooked amid the struggles in Capitol Hill over immigration, drug prices and paid family leave, Democrats ’plan to transform how the nation provides early child care stands out as one of the most expensive and comprehensive provisions of its social security bill. $ 1.850 billion. .

Costing $ 390 billion, the proposal would provide universal preschool access for 3- and 4-year-olds – the largest expansion of free education since a public high school was added about 100 years ago. It would also subsidize the cost of childcare for the vast majority of parents with a child under 6 years of age.

Together, the provisions would transform early childhood education and child care in the United States from a private, disparate network that favors the rich into a taxpayer-funded system that could alleviate the burden for millions of working parents and poor families. Democrats are beginning to focus on child care supplies as a generational change that will resonate with voters.

“This is the legacy,” said Melissa Boteach, vice president of the National Women’s Law Center. “When you conceive of childcare as a public good, what this bill does, you understand that it is inaccessible to parents. And suppliers are already earning poor wages. The way you crush that nut is through large-scale public investment. “

Democrats argue that parents – typically mothers – cannot be full participants in the workforce if their children are not in affordable, high-quality care programs.

They also show significant inequality between the United States and other developed western countries that provide preschool. As of 2019, only about half of U.S. 3- and 4-year-olds were enrolled in preschools, according to federal statistics.

“I had kindergarten teachers tell me that, on the first day of school, they have kids who don’t know how to turn a page in a book or take a pencil. They automatically start far behind, ”said Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.), A former preschool teacher who has advocated for politics for decades. She introduced the legislation along with Rep. Robert C. Scott (D-Va.).

Republicans oppose the proposal allows the government to take control of decisions better left to parents. Considering next year’s midterm election, they say it fits into a broader narrative of Democrats meddling in education, such as pandemic closures and school mass commanders.

“The Biden administration wants to get involved in the most intimate family decisions and tell parents how to care for their little ones,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). “Democrats want to sweep the first five years of a child’s life into a new set of top-down, one-size-fits-all, Washington-know-best regulations.”

Several Republicans complained that the policy would exclude faith-based preschool or day programs.

But under the plan, any program could participate as long as it meets state and federal requirements, and child care centers and parents could choose not to participate.

Republicans say those federal parameters would still leave some people like child care providers who don’t want to comply with the new rules or families in which grandparents provide child care or one 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 work. We have employers who are looking for skilled workers, ”she 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 hold [women] of being able to do what they need to take care of their families. “

The care and preschool policies will take time to fully implement and will only be effective until 2027 – a limit that will make successful and early implementation politically important for Democrats who want to ensure that a future Congress will feel political pressure to renew. it.

“You won’t be able to take your child to pre-K next week or next year even,” said Deputy Jackie Speier (D-Hillsborough). “It’s nature to do something that is so transformative. We will have to prepare everyone, but it’s time for us to do these things. ”

In a bill that was quite cut from what Democrats originally hoped to accomplish, the care policies were relatively well protected and non-controversial among Democrats.

Under the proposed policy, all 3- and 4-year-olds, including those without legal status, would have guaranteed access to preschool regardless of their parents ’income, the largest expansion of universal and free education since places established a public high school a century ago, according to the National Women’s Law Center. However, attendance at preschool would be voluntary.

In addition, parents of a child under 6 who earn up to 2.5 times the state’s median income – or about $ 233,760 for a family of four in California this year – would receive help on a sliding scale to help cover the cost of child care, limited to 7% of their income.

The result would be lower child care costs for more than 90% 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. A state or region that accepts will form the policy within federal parameters.

In general, policy experts expect states to set up systems in which parents could choose from a list of participating child care centers. Grants would go directly from the federal government to the child care facility on behalf of the eligible parent. Alternatively, parents could receive a coupon to pay their child care provider directly.

A spokesman for Governor Gavin Newsom said he was “pleased to use federal dollars to build California’s child care program.”

Earlier this year, California approved a universal program for 4-year-olds that relies primarily on public schools, as opposed to the federal plan, which would depend on a mixed delivery system of various types of schools.

The combination of the state and federal programs could provide Californians with access to many different pre-K sites, according to Linda Asato, executive director of the California Child Care Resource & Referral Network, an educational policy organization.

“It helps California expand its vision of preschool to include more community organizations,” Asato said. It would allow the state to expand preschool in a way it can’t now, she said.

Considering that many Republican-led states have opted against participating in Obamacare’s expansion of Medicaid, Democrats said that if a state refuses to use the program, a site could still do so.

Participating child care centers – whether they are nurseries, public schools, faith institutions or Head Start programs – should operate within federal parameters that would be described more explicitly by the Biden administration.

Federal and state regulations would determine details such as the length of preschool day and year, and academic requirements for certain teachers.

In an attempt to address the severe shortage of workers, employers should also provide living wages comparable to those of primary school workers with similar credentials.

Due to the lack of work, full implementation would take time, and parents ’childcare costs could increase before the grants are in full effect as providers employ more staff and meet new educational requirements.

If the program is launched next year as planned, only families earning below the state’s median income – $ 93,504 for a family of four in California this year – would be eligible for grants. Proponents of the plan expect that additional costs for parents will be offset when grants are launched at all income levels.

The closure of the pandemic of schools and nurseries has brought the problems of the childcare industry into a sharper focus, especially low wages that have driven people out of 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.

Child care centers have not increased wages because doing so could raise prices beyond the reach of many parents.

“What this bill is doing is solving this market failure,” said Julie Kashen, director and senior fellow at the Century Foundation. “The government is coming and saying we will solve this problem by putting in the money to raise salaries for the early educators and lower costs for parents.”

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