The 115th Congress has struggled to maintain the bipartisanship found in education policy, however, one issue does continue to have bipartisan support: early childhood education (ECE). Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK), Chair of the Appropriations Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Subcommittee (Labor-H) and Co-chair of the bipartisan Pre-K Caucus noted, “Early childhood education is essential for success later in life, and every state needs solid resources to reinforce the benefits of schooling.” Similar sentiments have been shared by President Trump and Congressional leaders of both parties, with many pending and adopted proposals on how to improve childcare and early childhood education. There are bipartisan efforts, demonstrated by the focus on early childhood education in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), and partisan efforts such as the Child Care for Working Families Act (CWFA) and child care tax credits.
In the bipartisan ESSA which passed in 2015, a new emphasis was placed on the education of young children. ESSA includes Preschool Development Grants (PDG), a new grant opportunity for states which expands access to preschool for four-year-olds from low-income families. While PDG were created through the appropriations process, ESSA marks the first time a general education law includes authorized language for an early learning initiative. Currently, both the House and Senate Labor-H appropriations bills for Fiscal Year 2018 include $250 million for PDG.
ESSA also funds Literacy Education for All, Results for the Nation (LEARN), which provides literacy grants to include learners from infancy through 12th grade, with an emphasis on early literacy. Finally, ESSA requires all states to assess students in reading and math beginning in third grade. This provides a built-in incentive for districts to thoughtfully and strategically use Title I resources, which are grants to local education agencies, to prepare its youngest learners to meet rigorous state standards. By preparing children through evidence-based practices in Title I preschool settings, schools can focus their efforts on young vulnerable learners so they are prepared to meet state standards when they transition to kindergarten and progress to taking the required assessments in third grade.
ESSA proved to be the base point for a new emphasis on early learning, and now both Republicans and Democrats have their own proposals to increase the quality of early childhood education. To make childcare more affordable, the Trump Administration, along with Congressional Republicans, introduced an initiative which broadens eligibility for the Child Care Tax Credit in its tax reform plan, Unified Framework for Fixing our Broken Tax Code. The proposal allows for a $1,000 tax credit as allowed under current law, however more middle-class families would be eligible. The release of this plan comes after Senior Advisor to the President Ivanka Trump, who along with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), advocated for a child tax credit increase from the current tax credit of $1,000 to $2,000. Congress is currently examining and debating the child tax credit plus other provisions of the tax proposal.
This fall, Democrats, led by Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA), released the Child Care for Working Families Act (CWFA), which would substantially alter how the current Child Care and Development Block Grant program supports low-income families in accessing affordable, high quality childcare, and preschool programs. The CWFA encompasses high-quality early literacy skill development and family literacy services; improves compensation, training, and preparation for early childhood education teachers; and assists states in providing high-quality childcare to families of infants, toddlers and preschool-age children with disabilities. It also acknowledges the value of early childhood home visiting and recommends the expansion of the federal Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting program.
With Congress trying to solve major policy issues such as reforming healthcare and tax law, early childhood education policy remains a top agenda issue for Congress and the Administration. Even with major differences between proposed plans, the increased focus on early childhood education proves it is an opportune time to influence policy impacting the affordability of and access to childcare and early learning.
- “Unified Framework for Fixing our Broken Tax Code,” U.S. Department of Treasury , September 29, 2017, https://www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/Documents/Tax-Framework.pdf.