More Accountability Needed: Child Care Aid by Race

May marks the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark Supreme Court decision that outlawed “separate but equal.”   In the decades since 1954, much as been done to integrate schools, boost performance rates among all children and close the achievement gap that is first noticed in kindergarten. As a nation, we’ve come a long way, but we have a long way to go.

The 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test scores of our nation’s 4th graders show that:

  • 21 percent of white 4th graders read below grade level;
  • 47 percent of Hispanic 4th graders read below grade level; and
  • 50 percent of African American 4th graders read below grade level.

Studies have well documented the school readiness gap when children enter kindergarten. African American and Hispanic children enter kindergarten below their white peers in reading and math related school readiness skills.

If we are serious about closing the achievement gap, we need to look at where children are before they enter school and strengthen the quality of early childhood settings. Most states now operate Pre-K programs. As studies show, Pre-K can make a difference.  But, Pre-K is not a panacea. The reality is, that most children are in some form of child care every week.  Given the hours that children spend in child care, and the age at which they begin child care settings, it is time to strengthen the quality of child care (for children age 4 and younger) to ensure that children start school ready to succeed and to close the achievement gap.

The Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) is the primary source of federal child care funding to states. More than 1.5 million children each year receive assistance through CCDBG. The split between white and African American children among CCDBG children assisted is about equal (43% of the children whose care is paid for with CCDBG dollars are white; 42% of the children are African American).

What we know from the most recent (FY2012) CCDBG data is: overall, about 256,241 children or 17 percent of the children whose care is paid for by CCDBG are in unlicensed care. While licensing requirements vary by state, little is known about the safety and quality of unlicensed settings – even if federal CCDBG subsidies are used to pay for it.  For example, there may be no training requirements for child care providers or only minimal training required – far below state licensing standards. There may be no health and safety requirements or only minimal requirements – far below state licensing standards. There may be no inspections or unlicensed settings may “self-certify” that they meet any state requirements (if they apply). Background checks for unlicensed child care providers receiving subsidies are mostly based on a name check, not a fingerprint check matched against state and federal records to prohibit those who might attempt to use an alias or circumvent a background screening system.

Unlicensed care does not mean illegal care. Some child care settings are license-exempt, which means that a state statute specifically exempts that category of care from licensing requirements. (For example, a state may specifically exempt “drop in” care, a child care setting in a mall designed to care for a child for a few hours on an irregular basis while a parent shops).  Some states do not license family child care homes until they reach a certain threshold of children. (For example, in 27 states, family child care homes are not required to have a license until they care for 4 or more unrelated children).

Why the attention to unlicensed care?   In 10 states, 30 percent or more of the children whose care is paid for with CCDBG funding are in unlicensed settings. (Alabama, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, and Oregon). For a table of CCDBG funded unlicensed care in all states, click here.  It may be that these settings are safe and offering quality care, but the reality is, we do not know.  What we do know is that minimum protections for children required by licensed care are not required.

In 18 states, 50 percent or more of the children whose care is paid for with CCDBG subsidies are African American.

Race Table Picture

The percentage of children under age 13 within each state in unlicensed care varies greatly. In Arkansas, the District of Columbia, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin, either no CCDBG dollars are spent on unlicensed care or 1 percent or fewer of the children whose care is paid for by CCDBG are in unlicensed care. Among the remaining states, the percentage of children in unlicensed care paid for by CCDBG varies from 72 percent in Hawaii to 2 percent in Georgia.

African American Children Under Age 5 in Unlicensed Care Paid for by CCDBG: What we know from the data is that for children under age 5, African American children are twice as likely to be in unlicensed care than white children (21.4 percent vs 11.8 percent).

Children Under Age 5 by Race

We know that the 4th grade reading test scores show that African American children are more than twice as likely compared to white children to read below grade level. We know that the school readiness gap is first noticed in kindergarten but does not begin in kindergarten. It’s time to bring more accountability to CCDBG funding to ensure that all children are in settings to promote their safety and healthy development.

There is much attention today to expanding Pre-K programs for 4 year-old children. That’s a great goal. However, the fact remains that for many children, child care is their early learning program.  From the research, we know that low income children are more likely to start school behind their more economically well-off peers. From a policy perspective, we know we have an opportunity with CCDBG dollars to ensure that low income children are in higher quality settings than they otherwise would be able to access. However, from the data, we know that nearly one-fifth of those who receive assistance are in unlicensed settings – settings that we know little about except that they are not required to have minimum protections for children.  And, from that same data, we know that African American children under age 5 whose care is paid for with a subsidy are twice as likely as white children to be in unlicensed care.

Sixty years after Brown vs Board of Education, we still have a long way to go. As we seek to close the achievement gap for students in K-12 schools, it is time to review the settings children are in before they start school. Our first step ought to be to review the settings children are in that are funded by taxpayer dollars. Licensed or unlicensed, are federal CCDBG dollars spent in an accountable manner? Are children, whose care is paid for with taxpayer dollars, in settings that are safe and that promote their healthy development?

It is troubling that given the plethora of research that underscores the importance and impact of quality child care on the school readiness of children, and particularly those at risk,  that  African American children under age five are twice as likely as white children to be in unlicensed settings.  If we truly care about school readiness, we can and should create more accountability for how our federal dollars are spent — for all children.

 

Child Care Quality Hearing Held by U.S. House of Representatives

On March 25, the U.S. House Education and the Workforce Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education held a hearing on child care quality. “The Foundation for Success: Strengthening the Child Care and Development Block Grant Program,” was a chance for the Committee with jurisdiction over our nation’s largest source of child care funding to review current policies and practice.

The expert panel at the hearing testifying and responding to questions from Members of Congress:

  • Paula Koos, Executive Director, Oklahoma Child Care Resource & Referral Association

    House Child Care Hearing March 25, 2014

    House Child Care Hearing March 25, 2014

  • Linda Kostantenaco, President, National Child Care Association
  • Dr. Olivia Golden, Executive Director, Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP)
  • Gloria Jarmon, Deputy Inspector General for Audit Services, Office of Inspector General, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Overall, the hearing focused on the affordability, availability, and quality of child care and the services funded under the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG), the law that allocates funds to the states for child care. CCDBG serves about 1.5 million low-income children throughout the country and invests about $1 billion in activities related to the quality of child care (i.e., activities related to strengthening the workforce and the quality of child care programs, including basic health and safety protections for children).

The reality today is that most parents work. And, in order for families who have young children to work, they need to obtain child care. Finding and affording child care is not easy for parents and most find it a stressful process. The hearing highlighted the role of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies within the states to both help parents find quality child care and help child care providers offer quality child care.

Paula Koos, Executive Director of the Oklahoma Child Care Resource & Referral Association told policymakers about the unique role of child care resource and referral. She talked about the importance of consumer education so that parents can make informed choices when selecting child care. “ In too many communities today, child care is hard for parents to find, hard to afford, and too often of questionable quality. For low income parents, the task is even more difficult. There are more than 600 Child Care Resource and Referral agencies throughout the country, serving nearly every zip code, assisting parents in finding child care. They help make a stressful and chaotic process calmer and more understandable and help parents make better informed choices in child care. The reality is that there is a large gap between parent expectations and state policy.”

Ms. Koos told policymakers about the gap between parent expectations and child care policies within states. “Parents think that a child care license is some type of gold standard, in short, the state’s seal of approval in order to offer child care. Parents assume a license means that adults providing child care have had a background check and training specific to child care. Parents believe there are required health and safety protections for their children, and some expert does inspections to ensure compliance with laws and policies for child care. Parents also assume that all child care settings are monitored when, in many states, large numbers of providers are legally exempt from oversight.”

Paula Koos, ED Oklahoma Child Care Resource & Referral Association

Paula Koos, ED Oklahoma Child Care Resource & Referral Association

“Child Care Resource and Referral has worked with parents in Oklahoma for more than 30 years. We have eight agencies that serve families in all 77 counties to offer consumer education and referrals to help families make better informed child care choices. We do not make recommendations about child care programs to any family. However, we provide them with information so that they can make an informed decision that meets the needs of their family. Finding child care is a stressful time for parents and our services help to alleviate that stress.

Ms. Koos also told policymakers about the role that CCR&R plays with regard to strengthening the workforce – a key element to improving the quality of child care. “We offer training, technical assistance and consultation to providers. Training is provided in both child-related and business requirements. From guiding people who are thinking about launching a child care business, to assisting providers to offer the best quality of care for children, we offer many services.”

“Training is related to strengthening the quality of the workforce – the competence and skills of the workforce. Technical assistance has many forms, but one of the most important is to ensure that those who have taken a training can translate that training to effective practice. What we know from the research is that child to staff interaction is one of the most important factors in improving child outcomes. Just because someone has attended a training, does not necessarily mean that they can effectively implement what they have learned,” said Koos.

“Our agencies offer technical assistance or, TA, on the phone and on-site,” said Koos. One area of TA that she particularly urged the committee to consider is business related technical assistance. “There has been so much focus on child development, which we can all agree is extremely important, we often fail to recognize that almost all child care programs are a small business. In 2012, we commissioned a study, “The Economic Role of Oklahoma’s Child Care Industry,” which found that the state’s 4,100 child care programs represented a network of small businesses, many of which are women owned and operated, that generate nearly $500 million in revenue and provide employment for about 20,500 workers with earnings of $290 million annually,” said Koos.

“Child care is a business. Business related technical assistance can assist child care providers with operating more efficiently and effectively. When you think about quality programs, please think as well, about the ability of child care programs not just to offer trained and competent staff, but also to use sound fiscal and management practices, which are the foundation to quality programs and essential to their sustainability,” said Koos.

Ms. Koos told policymakers that Oklahoma does not have a perfect system, but rather, a system with a stake in the ground for safety, accountability, and quality. “It’s been 17 years without reauthorization of CCDBG. We have the research on state policies. We know from the research what can be translated to best practice for child care safety and child development. I believe it’s time to provide some minimum protections for all our children and to ensure that public dollars are spent in an accountable way,” said Koos. She urged the Committee to take action to:

  • Improve safety protections for children. Require comprehensive background checks for child care providers and volunteers who care for unrelated children. Set minimum health and safety protections for all providers who care for CCDBG subsidized children.
  • Strengthen the Child Care Workforce. Require those who work in child care to have at least 30 hours of pre-service training and 24 hours of annual training. These are the recommendations from pediatric experts (see the National Resource Center for Health and Safety, Caring for Our Children recommendations).
  • Enhance Monitoring. Establish that programs accepting children whose care is paid for by CCDBG should have an inspection prior to licensure and at least once annually.
  • Improve Quality. Increase the quality set-aside for activities related to improving the quality of child care.
  • Subsidy Rates. Child care is expensive. It is hard for most families to afford; it is not merely a challenge for families in poverty. Consider a study by the National Academy of Sciences to review the cost of child care and recommend ways to design a better system.

Ms. Koos told policymakers, “I understand and support the need for state flexibility; however, at the same time, there needs to be some minimum core health and safety protections for all children in child care in our nation.”

Paula Koos with Subcommittee Chairman Rokita

Paula Koos with Subcommittee Chairman Rokita

To view the video of the hearing or the complete testimony of the witnesses, click here.
To view materials Paula submitted for the Committee record, click below:

On March 13, the Senate approved a CCDBG reauthorization bill requiring background checks for child care providers, important improvements to promote the health and safety of children in child care, as well as more accountable monitoring practices. The House is expected to draft similar legislation in the coming months. The House Education and the Workforce full Committee Chairman, Representative Kline, was in attendance at the hearing and spoke positively about the need to improve the quality of child care. This could be the year that Congress passes CCDBG legislation! Stay tuned!

Child Care and Early Learning: 2013 Highlights

The Year in Review

From Congress to the states, 2013 was a banner year for child care and early learning.  Despite a roller coaster ride with the federal budget, early learning initiatives remained a high priority.  As you can see below, much progress has been made to pave the way for continued success in 2014.

Federal PolicyCartoon Capitol

Bipartisan Child Care Reauthorization legislation Approved by Senate Committee:  

In June, bipartisan legislation,  S. 1086, the Child Care and Development Block Grant Act of 2013, was introduced in the Senate by Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Senator Richard Burr (R-NC), Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), and Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN).  The measure was referred to the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee and was approved in September. For a summary of the legislation as approved by the committee, click here.   CCDBG has not been reauthorized in 17 years.  At a time when Congress is polarized on so many issues, it was great to see a bipartisan effort to strengthen the quality of child care.  Hopefully, the full Senate (and the House) will approve the legislation in 2014.

HHS Proposed Revisions to Child Care Regulations to Strengthen the Quality of Care

In May, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) proposed revised child care regulations for the first time since 1998.  Public comments were accepted on the proposed rules through August.  The intent of the rules is to strengthen the health and safety of children in child care and to promote their healthy development.  For a comparison of the bipartisan Senate bill and the proposed HHS rules, click here.  To see public comments about the rules (and to sort by topic), click here.  The final HHS rules are expected to be published in 2014.

Strong Proposals Made for Preschool for All Children

In his 2013 State of the Union Address, President Obama called for Preschool for All Children. As part of his budget proposed to Congress last spring, the President proposed a 10 year $75 billion plan to expand pre-k for all children. The proposal called for quality benchmarks: state level standards for early learning, qualified teachers in every classroom, and comprehensive data and assessment systems. All 4 year-old children from families at 200% of poverty or below would be eligible.  The President’s plan also called for $1.4 billion in new Early Head Start-Child Care partnerships and an expansion of the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program (MIECHV).

In November, the Strong Start for America’s Children Act was introduced in the Senate by Senator Harkin (S. 1697) and in the House by Representative Miller (H.R. 3461).  The measures embody the concepts of the President’s plan.  Preschool grants would go to local education agencies (LEAs), including charter schools, early education programs or a consortium of school districts and early education programs.  After full enrollment of 4 year-old children, states would be allowed to enroll 3 year-olds.  States would be required to set-aside 20 percent of funding in the first 4 years for quality related activities and may set-aside 15 percent for high quality infant and toddler programs. The measure also includes non-renewable 3 year preschool development grants.  Early Head Start-Child Care Partnerships would be authorized at $1.4 billion.  Some child care provisions were included in the measure to support child care training, licensure, compensation initiatives and health & safety for which $100 million was authorized.  To date, the measure has garnered 23 cosponsors in the Senate and 64 cosponsors in the House.

2013 Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge Grants:  In December, six states received RTT-ELC grants totaling $280 million – Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Vermont. Information about the 2013 grants is located here.

RTT-ELC Grants in Progress: 2011 Award Winners – California, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island, and Washington. Information on 2011 grants is located here.   2012 Award Winners – Colorado, Illinois, New Mexico, Oregon, and Wisconsin. Information on 2012 grants is located here.

2013 Federal Budget in ReviewCapitol Scrabble

What a roller coaster ride this year’s federal budget activity was.

January 2013: The original sequester (the across the board cut that was included in a 2011 budget deal, which Congress delayed until January 2013 as a hammer in the event deficit reduction targets were not met) was pushed to March 1.  The sequester was supposed to be implemented on January 2 and represent a 50/50 reduction between defense and non-defense spending to the tune of $109 billion.  Appropriation bills were not completed in 2012 and a continuing resolution was enacted to freeze spending through March 27.

March 2013:  Despite additional time before the postponed sequester was scheduled to occur, Congress did not reach agreement on deficit reduction. As a result, a sequester of about $80 billion (7.3% in defense spending and 5.1% in non-defense) occurred on March 1.   The House passed its budget resolution (H.Con.Res. 25).  The Senate passed its budget resolution (S.Con.Res. 8).  These measures do not become law.  Instead, they act as a management tool for Congress – a blueprint for spending, revenues, and deficit reduction.  The measures could not be more different, which led to a fiscal impasse for the next 7 months.

FY2014 Senate vs House Budget Resolutions

FY2014 Senate vs House Budget Resolutions

September 2013:  Fiscal year 2013 ended September 30 without Congress passing appropriation bills for the new fiscal year beginning October 1.

October 2013:  With Congress unable to reach a budget agreement, the government shut down for 16 days.  Finally, a deal was reached which extended current spending through January 15, 2014 and charged a Committee with making recommendations by December 13 to deal with the looming sequester.

December 2013:  Senate Budget Chair Patty Murray (D-WA) and House Budget Chair Paul Ryan (R-WI) led a committee announcing a new budget deal in December.  The agreement replaced $63 billion of the sequestration cuts for 2014 and 2015 with other savings measures.  Wait a minute, you must be thinking.  The sequester again? We already had it in March. There’s another sequester? Yes.  The 2011 Budget Control Act set caps on funding through 2021 and called for $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction. Each year through 2021, there will be a $109 billion sequester (equally divided between defense and non-defense spending) to achieve the budget savings called for under the 2011 budget deal.  The Murray-Ryan budget deal will reduce the sequester in January 2014 by $45 billion and by $18 billion in January 2015. While this is good news (relatively), it still means that there will be a reduction in spending of about $64 billion in January 2014 (split equally between defense and nondefense spending).  So, where are we now on the budget?  The good news is that the size of the sequester will be smaller.  It is now up to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees to determine funding levels for various programs with a little more funding to work with absent the Murray-Ryan agreement.  With the current CR scheduled to expire on January 15, we can expect early January funding decisions to be made.  Stay tuned.

2013 State Child Care & Pre-K Achievementspreschool report 2013

Child Care Provider Background Checks.  Children should be safe in child care and people with a violent history should not be in the business of caring for unrelated children.  2013 was a banner year for states passing child care provider background check legislation.  Massachusetts led the way by passing fingerprint check legislation in January 2013 (effective September 1, 2013).  In March, Utah passed legislation (effective July 2013) and Georgia passed legislation (effective January 2014).  Indiana passed legislation (effective July 2013) requiring all regulated child care providers to have a fingerprint check against FBI databases.  Oklahoma passed legislation in 2011, which became effective in November 2013. Kentucky revised regulations in the fall to require an address search of the sex offender registry for all registered providers.  Virginia pre-filed child care background check bills in the Senate and House to be considered in January 2014.

Child Care Provider Health & Safety.  States continued to pass legislation improving health and safety requirements.  Arkansas, Indiana, Minnesota, Texas, and Utah passed legislation.  Kentucky revised regulations to strengthen health and safety policies.

State Pre-K Programs.  Hawaii and Mississippi passed legislation establishing statewide voluntary preschool.  In December, the Mississippi State Board of Education awarded $2 million to 11 consortiums to provide pre-k for 4 year-olds.  All of the consortiums include at least one school district, as well as other groups such as Head Start, private child care centers, and foundations.  Texas doubled the size of its pre-k program in Dallas.

Early Learning Improvements.  Colorado created the Infant and Toddler Quality and Availability Grant program, which was funded at $3 million beginning in July 2013.  Minnesota established an Early Learning Scholarship program for families with children who will be age 3 or 4 by September 1 with income at or below 185% of the poverty line.  Scholarships are capped at $5,000 per year.   Rhode Island established a Child Care Assistance Program Parent Advisory Council to advise the Governor and state agencies on issues related to the quality, affordability, and accessibility of child care offered through the state subsidy program.  Washington established an Early Start Program – a continuum of early learning programs from birth to age five, which includes:  home visiting and parent education programs; the early achievers program (the state’s QRIS); integrated full day and part day, high quality early learning programs; and high quality preschool for children in families at or below 110% of the federal poverty line.

State QRIS.  Nebraska passed legislation directing the State Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services to collaborate to develop and implement a quality rating system, establish quality rating criteria, assign a quality scale, and provide incentives and support, including professional development to participating child care providers.  Washington will require preschool programs receiving state funds to enroll in the state’s QRIS and maintain a minimum score level.

Key 2013 Reports:

2013 Interesting Policy Databases

2013 Census Bureau Quick Tools

Interactive Map:  In December, the Census Bureau released Census Explorer, a new interactive map that gives users easier access to neighborhood-level statistics. The map uses updated statistics from the 2008-2012 American Community Survey (ACS).

Interested in finding Census Bureau data about your community? Watch this fact finder webinar hosted by Census Bureau Experts.

My Congressional District gives users quick and easy access to selected statistics collected by the Census Bureau through the American Community Survey. The American Community Survey provides updated detailed demographic, social and economic statistics every year.

Coming in January 2014 from the Census Bureau:

Dynamics of Economic Well-Being: Poverty 2009-2011 — Analytical report on the duration of poverty spells and the frequency of transitions into and out of poverty based on the Survey of Income and Program Participation. It focuses on episodic and chronic poverty, length of poverty, exits from poverty and the characteristics of the affected population. (Scheduled for release Jan. 7.)

Measuring Alternative Educational Credentials — The Census Bureau’s first-ever report on the number and characteristics of adults with educational credentials other than academic degrees, such as a professional certification or license, or educational certificate. The data, based on the Survey of Income and Program Participation, pertain to fall 2012. (Scheduled for release Jan. 16.)

2014 Road Forward

Together We Can Move Mountains!

Together We Can Move Mountains!

The good news for 2013 was that progress on the early learning front was made and important markers were set. Thank you to state child care administrators, parents, advocates, child care providers, child care experts and everyone who works every day to improve the quality of early learning settings.

We’re on the road, we need to continue building on the successes we’ve had.  Together, we can make a difference to ensure that all children have access to safe, quality, affordable child care and early learning settings.

The Evidence is In – Quality Preschool Matters!

Earlier this fall, New America hosted a panel, “Too Much Evidence to Ignore: New Findings on the Impact of Quality Preschool at Scale.”  The panel discussion offered an opportunity for leading researchers and policy analysts to discuss a new report, “Investing in Our Future: The Evidence Base on Preschool Education.”

The report is an analysis of 84 preschool programs throughout the country where evaluations have concluded that children benefit across language, reading, math, and social-emotional skills.  Key findings include:Image

  • The number of children in a classroom, the ratio of teachers to students, and staff qualifications all help to increase the likelihood of more children entering school ready to succeed – however, children benefit most when teachers engage in stimulating interactions that support learning and are emotionally supportive.
  • Access to preschool benefits children from middle income families as well as low income families (although children from low income families benefit more).
  • Children across various racial/ethnic groups benefit from preschool as do children who are dual language learners and children of immigrants.
  • Working with parents can augment the effects of preschool on children’s development, but only when modeling positive interactions or providing opportunities for practice with feedback.
  • High quality early childhood education programs are among the most cost-effective educational interventions and benefit society as a whole.

What does this all mean?  Decades of research has been conducted on preschool programs.  What we know is that quality preschool can make a difference for children’s school readiness. There has been much discussion about preschool teacher qualifications.  But, the research shows that preschool teacher qualifications alone do not ensure greater gains for children.  Coaching and mentoring that provide teachers with support to better implement curricula and interact with and engage children, leads to better child outcomes – higher quality programs that lead to children learning.

Preschool teachers interacting with children foster higher order thinking.  Warm, responsive teacher-child relationships characterized by back and forth conversations (“serve and return”) not only help children learn in the short-term but also predict the persistence of gains into the school years.  Curricula matters, however, evaluations found that intensive professional development – coaching at least twice a month where expert teachers provide feedback and support for in-classroom practice, makes a difference in improving classroom quality.

According to the National Institute on Early Education Research (NIEER), currently, about 42 percent of 4 year-olds attend publicly-funded preschool (28 percent attend public preschool programs, 11 percent  attend Head Start, and 3 percent attend special education preschool programs).  We know early education works.  We know it is cost-effective.  It’s time to ensure that all 4 year-old children have access to quality preschool – regardless of family income and regardless of geography.

An Economic Development Strategy: Getting All Students Reading by Third Grade

Last week, the National Governors Association released a new report, A Governor’s Guide to Early Literacy: Getting All Students Reading by Third Grade.”   The Governors’ interest is clear: to increase economic growth, every state must cultivate a future workforce that is highly literate, knowledgeable, and skilled.  Third grade is a critical juncture for students as they turn the corner from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.”

What’s the big deal about third grade reading ability?  A 2012 Annie E. Casey Foundation report, Double Jeopardy:  How Third Grade Reading Skills and Poverty  Influence High School Graduation,” found:

  • Those who do not read proficiently by third grade are four times more likely to not graduate from high school.
  • For students reading below grade level in third grade, the rate is nearly six times greater.
  • For children who were poor for at least a year and also not reading proficiently, the proportion failing to graduate is 26 percent.
  • For children who were poor, lived in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty and also not reading proficiently, the proportion rose to 35 percent.

What’s the data show for 4th grade reading ability? The latest testing data released by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) based on 4th grade 2011 test scores found:

  • For low-income children eligible for free and reduced price lunch, 18 percent read at a “proficient” level, while the remaining students did not – 34 percent reading at a “basic” level and 48 percent reading below basic (or below grade level).
  • For children in families not eligible for free and reduced price lunch, test scores are reversed  – 48 percent read at a “proficient level,” 34 percent read at a “basic” level and 18 percent read below basic (or below grade level).

    States with Highest Proportion of School Children in Poverty

    States with the Highest Proportion of School Children in Poverty

A new report by the Southern Education Foundation, A New Majority, Low Income Students in the South and the Nation,” found that a majority of public school students from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade are low-income in 17 states (13 southern states and 4 in the west).  Based on data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), 71 percent of students in Mississippi, 68 percent of students in New Mexico,  66 percent of students from Louisiana, 61 percent of students from Oklahoma, and 60 percent of students from Arkansas were from low-income families.

The National Governors Association report links the inability to read at grade level with the consequences for such failure – higher rates of school dropouts, a mismatch between employer needs and educated workers, an increased likelihood of public assistance receipt, and higher rates of incarceration.   Research by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce shows that nearly two-thirds of future jobs will require at least some level of post-secondary education.

Given the nation’s economic prosperity will depend on an increasingly well educated workforce, the NGA report offers guidance to policymakers to better support the language and literacy skills of children from early childhood through third grade.  The data is clear, reading skills matter for school performance and success.

The NGA report calls for a broad systemic effort to bridge the gap between research and current policies – in short, an ambitious birth-to-third grade agenda.

The report recommends five policy actions to ensure that all children are reading by third grade:

Action 1: Adopt comprehensive language and literacy standards and curricula for early care and education programs and kindergarten through third grade.

Action 2: Expand access to high-quality child care, pre-kindergarten, and full-day kindergarten.

Action 3: Engage and support parents as partners in early language and literacy development.

Action 4: Equip professionals providing care and education with the skills and knowledge to support early learning and literacy development.

Action 5: Develop mechanisms to promote continuous improvement and accountability.

What the NGA report makes clear is that “starting at kindergarten is too late.”  Language and literacy development start at birth and gaps in achievement appear well before kindergarten entry. High quality early learning experiences can help close the gap. 

The report says leadership by the nation’s Governors is critical “to ensure policies and processes that reflect the research on early language and literacy development.”  The report says that state agencies and practitioners need the resources and capabilities to promote better policy and to measure progress toward continuous improvement.  The report concludes by calling on Governors to engage public and private stakeholders from outside the usual education policy arena.

Bottom Line Message:  The research is clear. Early learning settings matter for school success and for future economic prosperity.  We’re in this together: with 17 states with a majority of children in poverty in our public schools, we can’t afford to wait any longer before developing and implementing a birth through grade 3 language and literacy agenda.

Federal Government Shutdown: Voters Hold the Trump Card

Day 2 of the federal government shutdown.  What’s the latest? It’s unclear.  How long will it last? It’s unclear. What’s at stake? Plenty…  from the well-being of millions of American families to the framework for our legislative democracy.

Every day in America, there are families who depend in some way on the government.  Some of them are low wage families with children who depend on modest assistance in order to work, including

Other families with older children may be depending on college loans (grants continue, loans are a question at this point).  Nearly 20 million students attend college every year with about 12 million who take out loans to afford the cost.  The actual number couldn’t be verified for this blog post since the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) is federally funded and its web site is shut down.

The collateral impact of Congress’ inability to pass a budget on time is far beyond the 800,000 federal employees who are furloughed.  Throughout the country, states are determining whether bridges will be inspected, whether child care programs will be inspected, potential impacts that exceed the closure of national parks and museums. For tourists, Congress’ inaction is an inconvenience, for families whose budgets and well-being are directly affected, it’s much more personal.

It’s no secret that Congress is polarized and unable to agree to budget priorities.  Highlights from the last few years demonstrate a disturbing trend.

  • In the face of a debt ceiling crisis back in 2011, Congress agreed to a budget deal setting up a committee to recommend ways to reduce the deficit.  The penalty was a series of across the board cuts to be imposed (referred to as sequesters) in the event that Congress was unable to reduce the deficit.
  • As the first sequester neared in January 2013, a Congress unable to garner consensus on an alternative to the impending sequester, kicked the can to March. In March, when Congress was unable to reach a deal, the sequester was imposed on spending for the remainder of the fiscal year.

While it’s true that the government shut down for several weeks back in 1995 and 1996, it wasn’t a complete shut down (some appropriations bills had passed) and the fiscal impasse wasn’t exacerbated by an impending fiscal nightmare: the expiration of the nation’s debt ceiling (or borrowing authority) on or around October 16. (The government actually breached its $16.7 trillion debt ceiling in May but has been using emergency measures to keep operating since that time). The day of reckoning when the government’s borrowing authority will need to be increased is around the corner with experts predicting mid to late October as doomsday.

How did we get here?  Not overnight.  Last spring there was a charge for both the Senate and the House to pass a budget. They both passed budget resolutions (i.e, a measure analogous to a fiscal blueprint for committees to follow), but the budgets they passed were polar opposites.  It was clear that if appropriation bills were passed by each chamber complying with the budget parameters set forth in each chamber’s budget blueprint, it would be difficult to negotiate the differences. Numerous times since last April, the Senate tried to name conferees on the budget resolution to work out the differences but were blocked each time by the House majority.

Taegan Goddard's Wonk Wire Budget Table

Taegan Goddard’s Wonk Wire Budget Table

If the issue at hand was about budget priorities alone, it would be a challenge to reach an agreement. But, over the past few years, spending has been cut.  Federal budget data is crystal clear on that point and the most recent budget continuing resolution (CR) further bares that out. (See Figure 1).

However, the issue this go-round is ideological – it’s about support for and opposition to the Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare.”  What’s the issue?  After much debate, the Affordable Care Act (PL 111-148) became law on March 23, 2010. In June of 2012, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. Open enrollment in the health care marketplace has begun.

Members of Congress can like or dislike the Affordable Care Act, but the fact is that it is the law and has passed Constitutional muster.  A small minority in Congress want another bite at the apple. That bite has led to the shutdown of the federal government. The will of the minority has temporarily trumped the majority. Is that what the Founding Fathers had in mind as they drafted the Constitution? That the will of the minority could bring the government to a standstill and wreak havoc on the economy? Who actually is trumped? The American people.

Today, the President convened the House and Senate leadership to discuss the way forward on the budget impasse.  It was a private meeting with no staff and little has been reported in the press.  So, where does that leave things?

  • For programs assisting low income families with children, states are reviewing any unobligated balances of prior year money to see if and how long they might forward-fund the federal government during the shutdown as federal funds to states have stopped.
  • For tourists to our nation’s national parks and museums, the doors are closed.
  • For federal employees, paychecks have stopped.
  • For most Americans who depend on public services of some type, it’s a roll of the dice as to whether services are available, delayed, or stopped.

Historians will write about how our framework for democracy has been held hostage to the ideology of a minority whose will was surpassed by a law and a Supreme Court ruling. What’s the lesson learned? Register to vote. Show up to vote.  Vote for those who want good policy to promote our people and economy.  Vote against ideological extremists who are willing to shut down the government when they disagree with majority rule.  The final trump card is held by voters.  #EnoughAlready

Child Care Bill Passes Committee!

On September 18, 2013, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee approved legislation (S. 1086) to reauthorize the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG), which allocates funds to states for child care – to help families afford the cost of child care and assist states in improving the quality of child care.

CCDBG Markup

CCDBG Markup

While Congress is supposed to review laws periodically to adjust them for new research, best practices, and to address any shortcomings not foreseen when bills are drafted (a process referred to as reauthorization,  which generally occurs every 5 years on average), it has been 17 years since CCDBG was last reauthorized in 1996. Much has been learned during the intervening years from the science of brain development to the child care policies within states.  For example, national studies have shown that most state child care policies are weak and the oversight of those policies is even weaker.  The Senate HELP Subcommittee on Children and Families held 3 hearings prior to approving the legislation today:

Child Care and Development Block Grant Act of 2013 Highlights

In Brief:  The CCDBG reauthorization bill improves the quality of child care by requiring basic health and safety protections for children whose care is paid for by taxpayer dollars.  The funds set-aside for state activities to improve the quality of care are tightened up for more accountability for the use of those dollars.  In addition, more emphasis would be placed on strengthening the child care workforce, the cornerstone of quality child care.

Child Safety:

  • The measure requires comprehensive background checks for child care providers who are receiving federal subsidies to care for low income children. A comprehensive background check includes a fingerprint check against state and federal records, a check of the state child abuse registry and a check of the sex offender registry.
  • If a state uses federal funds to support unlicensed child care with taxpayer dollars, states would be required to explain how such care will not endanger the health, safety, or development of children.
  • To protect the health and safety of children in child care, states would be required to ensure that child care providers have training in the following topics:  prevention of shaken baby syndrome and abusive head trauma, the prevention and control of infectious diseases, handwashing and universal health precautions, the administration of medication (consistent with standards for parental consent), the prevention of and response to emergencies due to food and other allergic reactions, the prevention of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and use of safe sleep practices, building and physical premises safety, emergency preparedness and response planning, the handling and storage of hazardous materials, the identification of and protection from hazards that can cause bodily injury such as electrical hazards, bodies of water, and vehicular traffic, transportation precautions (if applicable), first aid and CPR, minimum health and safety training to be completed prior to caring for children or during an orientation period.

Accountability for Child Care Programs:

  • The measure requires an inspection before a provider is licensed to care for children (or receives a subsidy in the case of an unlicensed child care setting) and requires at least one annual unannounced inspection.  Inspection results are required to be posted on the internet so that parents can make informed decisions when selecting child care.

Parent Resources:

  • The measure requires that states disseminate information in a manner so that parents can better understand the quality of care when they look at potential child care options. States would be required to pass along information about child care licensing, background checks, inspections, programs participating in state quality rating systems and their level of quality.
  • Parents would also receive information about other federal and state programs for which they might quality, demystifying some of the programs that once navigated could really make a difference to a family with young children, including information about developmental screenings so that children with a disability or developmental delay can be identified earlier to receive services.
  • States may use funds to establish or support a system of local or regional child care resource and referral organizations to provide parents with consumer information concerning child care options, particularly to assist parents in enrolling children in high quality care.

Child Care Quality:

  • The current 4 percent quality set-aside would be increased to 10 percent over 5 years with an additional 3 percent for quality activities related to infant and toddler care.
  • States would be required to provide a set of workforce and competency standards for child care providers that incorporate knowledge and application of the state’s early learning guidelines and the state’s child development and health standards.  In developing these policies, states would be required to develop a statewide progression of professional development designed to strengthen the child care workforce.
  • The measure requires states to conduct a market rate survey of child care prices every two years, requires that the survey be statistically valid and reliable and reflect variations in the cost of child care by geographic area, type of provider, and age of the child.  States would be required to use the survey in setting child care subsidy rates, taking into consideration the cost of providing higher quality care and to the extent practicable, increase rates without reducing the number of families served. States would be required to have policies that pay providers in a timely manner.
  • From the quality set-aside, states would be required to engage in at least two of the following activities:
    • Supporting the training, professional development, and professional advancement of the child care workforce;
    • Supporting the use of the early learning and developmental guidelines by developing and implementing ELGs and by providing technical assistance to promote language and literacy skills, foster school readiness, and support later school success;
    • Developing and implementing a tiered quality rating and improvement system;
    • Improving the supply and quality of child care programs and services for infants and toddlers;
    • Promoting broad child care provider participation in QRIS programs;
    • Establishing or expanding a statewide system of child care resource & referral services;
    • Facilitating compliance with state requirements for inspection, monitoring, training and health and safety with state licensing;
    • Evaluating and assessing the quality and effectiveness of child care programs, including how services may improve a child’s school readiness;
    • Supporting child care providers in obtaining accreditation;
    • Supporting state or local efforts to develop or adopt high quality program standards; and
    • Carrying out other activities that a state determines improves the quality of care for which measurement of outcomes related to improve provider preparedness, child safety, child well-being or school readiness is possible.

Protections for Working Parents:

  • The measure requires a 12 month eligibility period for child care assistance before eligibility is re-determined. (Continuity of care is very important to children and with modest fluctuations in income in low wage jobs, care should be taken to promote continuity for children despite modest family income fluctuations- as long as family income does not exceed 85 of state median income).
  • Payment practices for children receiving a subsidy would be required to reflect generally accepted payment practices of child care providers in the community.

Upon consideration of the bill today, Senator Harkin (D-IA), the Chairman of the Senate HELP Committee said, “child care is a critical support for virtually every working parent.”  He gave credit to Committee members Senator Mikulski  (D-MD), the former Chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Children and Families and current Appropriations Committee Chair,  and Senator Burr (R-NC), a longstanding member of the Senate HELP Committee as well as Children and Families Subcommittee.

Senator Mikulski said, “It’s a really good day today. This is the way that the Senate should work. The bill is a result of a significant bipartisan effort…. Finding pragmatic solutions, focused on the needs of the child….”.  Senator Burr added, “we took time to listen to views across the country.  CCDBG has not been reauthorized in 17 years. Parents need information about who is providing good care and who is not. This bill will lead to safer child care so that federal tax dollars are not used in settings that would compromise the safety of children.”  Senator Alexander (R-TN), the ranking member of the HELP Committee explained that “child care can be the most difficult obstacle for working mothers.”

The next step is for the full Senate to consider the bill. It’s not clear at this time when that will happen, but what is clear is that few bills in Congress today have such broad bipartisan support.  It is long past the time when CCDBG should be reauthorized.  Today’s action is good news.  Contact your Senator today and ask for his or her support for the legislation. The message is easy:  Children should be safe in child care. Please support the Senate HELP Committee bill and pass it this fall.