What’s at Stake for Early Childhood Education? A Look at Federal Elections

The results of the election will have a significant impact on a whole host of issues, including early childhood education.
Blog Post
Oct. 26, 2020

We’re just one week away from an Election Day unlike any in our nation’s history, coming amid a global pandemic that has upended the lives of just about all Americans and drastically upended the school year for the majority of students. Over 60 million Americans have already cast their votes and some experts are predicting record turnout due to high levels of voter enthusiasm. The results of the election, at the local, state, and federal level, will have a significant impact on a whole host of issues, including early childhood education (ECE). Below we explain how the outcomes of the federal elections could shape ECE policy in the years to come.

White House

Donald Trump and Joe Biden have put forward vastly different visions when it comes to federal policy related to ECE. During his four years in office, President Trump hasn’t made education policy much of a priority other than pushing for expanded school choice. While the president did sign into law a historic increase of $2.37 billion for the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) in 2018, his 2018 budget proposal actually called for a $95 million funding decrease for the program. The administration has done little to alleviate our country’s child care crisis either before or during the pandemic. There is no indication that this will change in a second term, as Trump’s campaign agenda lists only two education-related priorities: providing school choice to every child and teaching American exceptionalism.

For his part, Joe Biden’s campaign has proposed partnering with states to provide free, high-quality pre-K for all three- and four-year-olds through a mixed delivery system that includes public schools, child care centers, family child care providers, and Head Start. When it comes to child care, Biden has promised to adopt the program envisioned in the Child Care for Working Families Act introduced by Bobby Scott (D-VA) in the House and Patty Murray (D-WA) in the Senate.

That bill would significantly increase CCDBG funding so that states can help more people afford child care. No family earning less than 150 percent of their state’s median income would pay more than 7 percent of their income on child care. Child care would cost nothing for families earning less than 75 percent of their state’s median income. The bill would also ensure that child care workers are paid at least a living wage and would guarantee pay parity with elementary school teachers for workers with similar credentials and experience.

State and national polls suggest that Biden is the favorite to win the election, but those same polls predicted a Hillary Clinton victory at this point in 2016 so it could wind up being a much closer race than many anticipate. If Biden takes the oath of office in January, his ability to turn his ECE policy promises into reality will largely depend on whether the Democratic party controls Congress.

House and Senate

Democrats currently control the House of Representatives by a margin of 232 to 197, with 218 seats needed for a majority. The chances of Republicans picking up the 17 seats they need for a majority are slim. Currently, Democrats are clearly favored to keep control of the House, with some analysts predicting that Democrats could actually expand their majority by five to ten seats.

The Senate is currently controlled by Republicans by a margin of 53 to 47. If Biden wins the presidency, Democrats need a net gain of three seats for the majority. They are currently slight favorites to take control of the Senate, with a handful of toss-up races in states such as North Carolina, Iowa, Georgia, and Maine likely to determine control.

If Biden wins the presidency and has a Democratic House and Senate to work with for the first two years of his administration, there is the possibility of seeing significant ECE legislation become law at the federal level for the first time in four years. Assuming that a pre-election deal on COVID relief is not reached, the first ECE-related priority will be providing a much-needed bailout of the child care industry. While the CARES Act that Congress passed in March included $3.5 billion in child care relief, child care advocates have repeatedly demanded at least $50 billion in additional funding, which is the amount included in a plan proposed in May by Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Tina Smith (D-MN).

For its part, the Democratic-led House passed an updated $2.2 trillion HEROES Act on October 1 that would provide $57 billion in emergency child care funding, plus $1.7 billion in funding for Head Start and Early Head Start. While that bill has gone nowhere in the Senate, a large package similar to the HEROES Act could become law if Biden is elected and Democrats take control of the Senate.

While the top ECE-related priority under a Biden administration and Democratic Senate will likely be additional funding to alleviate the financial stress caused by the pandemic, there would also be the possibility for additional funding to improve child care infrastructure. In July, the House passed the Moving Forward Act, a $1.5 trillion plan to modernize the nation’s infrastructure. The bill includes a five-year, $10 billion grant program to upgrade child care facilities. These funds would be distributed to states to be used for acquiring, constructing, renovating, or improving child care facilities, including reconfiguring facilities in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

A Democratic Senate could also pass a bill similar to the Rebuilding a Better Child Care Infrastructure Act introduced by three senators in September. That bill would expand mandatory child care funding to states, create child care assistance grants for providers affected by the pandemic, and provide grants to improve child care affordability, quality, and supply in areas of particular need.

An election outcome that results in a Biden administration along with a Democratic House and a Republican Senate, while somewhat improbable, would likely result in legislative gridlock on a variety of issues. Such an outcome would be unlikely to result in significant changes to ECE policy at the federal level.

There’s a lot at stake this year, both in terms of solving our immediate crises and making our systems stronger for families going forward. Many of us think about ECE year-round, and some of our readers advocate for this issue professionally; elections are a chance for each of us to influence what matters to us. So if you haven’t voted yet, do your research to figure out how your federal, state, and local elections will impact young children, families, and early childhood educators. Check back on our EdCentral blog following the election for analysis of what the results mean for ECE policy.

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