Jan. 3, 2023
At the federal level, the past year was a mixed bag when it comes to ECE. Due to opposition from Senate Republicans and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), 2022 was the year that President Biden’s Build Back Better Act officially died, along with its plans for a historic $390 billion federal investment in child care and pre-K. The compromise bill that was signed into law, the Inflation Reduction Act, did not include investments in early care and education.
Some states, however, are making progress, with the November midterm elections bringing several wins for young children and families. New Mexico voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment that would boost early childhood education spending by almost $150 million next year. Meanwhile, South Dakota voters approved Medicaid expansion to people with incomes below 138 percent of the federal poverty level and Colorado voters approved a ballot measure to provide free meals for all public school students by raising taxes on the state’s richest residents.
What will 2023 bring? Below I list a few questions that rise to the top:
Will the child care workforce shortage improve?
It’s no secret that the child care workforce has been especially hard hit by the pandemic. By some measures, there are about 100,000 fewer child care workers now than there were before the pandemic, with many leaving the industry altogether for better wages and benefits at companies like Target, Amazon, and Trader Joe’s. Of course, a lack of child care workers translates into a lack of available child care for many families, with parents dealing with long waiting lists and many being forced to work less than they’d like due to a lack of consistent care.
States, for their part, have responded to this workforce shortage in a few different ways. Some, such as Connecticut, have offered one-time bonuses to child care staff in an effort to improve retention and morale. New Mexico has announced plans to use federal relief dollars to provide $3-per-hour pay supplements to between 13,000 and 16,000 workers at licensed centers. And Kentucky is making child care workers in the state automatically eligible for child care subsidies via their Child Care Assistance Program.
Will these efforts succeed in easing the childcare workforce shortage? There are some signs that the shortage might be slowly easing, with 10,000 workers added over the past two months, but it will be well into 2023 before we have a clearer grasp of the extent to which the workforce shortage will linger.
What will states do with funds from PDG B-5?
In September, the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) announced $266 million in Preschool Development Grants Birth through Five (PDG B-5) planning and renewal grants. ACF is expected to award 10 planning grants and 24 renewal grants to states, each with a floor of $500,000. State applications were due in November and some state awardees have already been announced. In their applications, states were encouraged to focus on needs created by the pandemic as well as strategies for strengthening and supporting the ECE workforce.
PDG also encourages states to use funds to strengthen transitions from early childhood settings into the early elementary grades. States could establish systems that recognize the value of meaningful family involvement, align developmentally appropriate expectations and experiences across the early years and grades, and create an atmosphere for shared dialogue, planning, and coordination among all early educators serving children from birth through elementary school (for practical tips on how to do this, check out our updated toolkit). States could also use the funds to modernize their data systems to better understand how current investments affect long-term outcomes.
Last year, the U.S. Department of Education announced its Transforming Kindergarten Collaborative and contracted with WestEd to deliver technical assistance to interested states. Among the areas WestEd is supporting states on are transitions into kindergarten and making kindergarten more developmentally appropriate for learners. This work will hopefully give states good ideas on ways to leverage PDG, should they be awarded a grant, along with other federal and state funding sources to strengthen kindergarten.
What will new data show about the extent of COVID-related learning loss in young children and how will states/districts respond?
While the pandemic began early in 2020, it was 2022 when we got a better sense of its impact on children. For example, NAEP scores revealed that students in the fourth and eighth grades saw unprecedented declines in math and significant dips in reading achievement between 2019 and 2022. There’s also evidence that infants born during the pandemic produced fewer vocalizations and had less verbal back-and-forth with caregivers compared to children born prior to the pandemic.
Congress responded to pandemic-related learning loss by allocating an unprecedented $122 billion for mitigating the impact of the pandemic on students. These ESSER III funds can be used for early childhood education. For example, in North Dakota, funds are being used to fund high-quality pre-K classrooms for four-year-olds through grants that are available to public, private, and religious child care providers, indicating an emphasis on providing early learning opportunities through a mixed-delivery system. Will this extraordinary amount of spending be enough to ameliorate the harmful impacts of COVID on young children or will we be dealing with these impacts for the foreseeable future?
What will a new Congress mean for ECE?
The 118th Congress will convene on January 3, with the Senate controlled by Democrats and the House narrowly controlled by Republicans. While experts doubt that much meaningful legislation will be passed over the next two years of divided government, there could be opportunities for bipartisan compromise in a few areas related to ECE.
For example, back in March, Senators Tim Scott (R-S.C) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.) introduced the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) Reauthorization Act of 2022. Among other things, their bill would give states the option to increase the income eligibility ceiling for families receiving child care subsidies from 85 percent of state median income (SMI) to 150 percent. It would also adjust copayment rates, ensuring that families earning less than 75 percent of SMI have no copayment. While some components of the bill reflected bipartisan consensus and were similar to ideas put forward by Democrats in the Child Care for Working Families Act, the absence of new federal funding for either child care or pre-K was concerning and led many ECE advocates to dismiss the bill. Without articulating a clear amount of how much funding Congress is willing to allocate to CCDBG in the future, it’s difficult to know whether a bill would achieve its goal of improving child care affordability, but these areas of agreement serve as a starting point for bipartisan negotiations.
These are just a few of the pressing issues related to early care and education that policymakers will contend with in 2023. As newly elected officials take office at the local, state, and federal level, the hope is that they will quickly work to turn their campaign promises about expanding early childhood education into reality.
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