2015 Year in Review

Early Childhood Program Year End Wrap Up          

As we come to a close in the calendar year, it is clear that 2015 marked enormous progress on the early learning initiative front!

Congress passed the FY2016 Consolidated Appropriations ActCartoon Capitol

The FY2016 Consolidated Appropriations Act (PL 114-113), enacted on December 18, included an increase of nearly $1 billion for programs operated through the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) — primarily for the Child Care and Development Block Grant and Head Start.

What’s in the Consolidated Appropriations Act for early childhood?

Matching Budget Information with Context:

For more information on the most recent data for CCDBG program statistics (number of children receiving assistance, settings those children are in) and for information about TANF funding used for child care by state, click here.

Early Head Start/Child Care Partnerships: The FY2016 Consolidated Young woman playing with boyAppropriations Act included $635 million for EHS/CCPs. This means that previous grants will continue to receive funding and $135 million in additional funding will be available for a new competition. Stay tuned for competition criteria and proposal deadlines in 2016. Current awards finalized in March of 2015 are here.

Preschool Expansion/Development Grants: The FY2016 Consolidated Appropriations Act included $250 million to continue another year of funding for current grantees.

Every Student Succeeds Act and Preschool Development Grants

On December 9, the President signed the Every Child Succeeds Act into Pre schoollaw (P.L. 114-95), which reauthorizes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act- also known as the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law. The Every Child Succeeds Act includes many opportunities to better integrate early learning initiatives with K-12 education, including a new provision authorizing Preschool Development Grants. This new competitive grant program is designed to assist states to:

  • develop, update or implement a strategic plan to improve collaboration and coordination among existing early learning programs in a mixed delivery system across the state to prepare low income children to enter kindergarten ready to succeed;
  • encourage partnerships among Head Start providers, state and local governments, private entities (including faith and community based organizations), and local educational agencies, to improve coordination, program quality, and the delivery of services; and
  • to maximize parent choice among a mixed delivery system of early childhood education program providers.

The Secretary of HHS is in charge of the program to be operated jointly with the Secretary of the Department of Education. Watch for more details about the competition for funding in 2016.

Child Care and Development Block Grant Reauthorization Implementation:

November marked a year since the President signed the bipartisan CCDBG Act of 2014 into law. During that year, much progress has been made to promote more parent choice among high quality settings in every community.

CCDBG State Plan. In order for states to receive federal funds, each state must submit a state plan to HHS. The template for the state plan was published for public comment three times in 2015 (in January, in May, and in September). In December, the final state plan template was published.

Creative kids class

Many states have begun drafting their state plans, which are due on March 1, 2016. Some states have held public hearings already. HHS regularly posts updates on state plan public hearings under Key Resources Related to the Implementation of the CCDF Reauthorization Law.

CCDBG Regulations. On December 24, HHS published proposed CCDF regulations in the Federal Register. Public comments with regard to the proposed regulations are due on or before February 22, 2016. The regs play a key role in ensuring that states have a uniform interpretation of the law.

Head Start:

In June, HHS proposed the first major revision and reorganization of the preschool boy green shirtHead Start Performance Standards, which were open for public comment for several months. The proposed program performance standards will improve the quality of services, reduce bureaucratic burdens, and improve regulatory clarity and transparency. They provide a clear pathway for current and prospective grantees to provide high quality Head Start services and to strengthen outcomes for the children and families served. Read the proposed revisions and watch for final regulations in 2016.

Also Noteworthy for the Early Childhood Field: (Released in 2015)

Happy New Year! Wishing you all the best in 2016! We have come so far in 2015. 2016 will be the year to close the gap between research, policy, and practice… The opportunity is yours. Seize the day!

Reducing Poverty Requires a Two-Generational Strategy

On September 17, the U.S. Census Bureau released new poverty data for 2014.2014 Census Poverty Report

For the fourth consecutive year, the number of people in poverty was not statistically different from the previous year’s estimates. See “Income and Poverty in the United States: 2014.”  In 2014, the official poverty rate was 14.8 percent – 46.7 million people living in poverty.

Children in Poverty

The poverty rate for children under age 18 was 21.1 percent (far higher than the poverty rate for people aged 18-64 at 13.5% and the elderly (over age 64) at 10%).

For children under age 6, the poverty rate was 23.5% (5.5 million children).

  • 41.4% of African American children under age 5 live in poverty
  • 34% of Hispanic children under age 5 live in poverty
  • 19.7% of White children under age 5 live in poverty

More than half (55.1%) of children under age 6 in families led by a single mother were in poverty (while 11.6% of children under age 6 in married couple families lived in poverty).

What is the poverty threshold? For a single parent with 2 children, it’s about $19,073. To see a table of poverty thresholds by size of family, click here. To see the percentage of children under age 18 in poverty by state, click here.

Who is adult poverty highest for? Individuals without a high school diploma (where 28.9% live in poverty compared to 14.2% of those with a high school diploma, 10.2% of those with some college, and 5% for those with a college degree).

Why is that important? Because the reality today is that children from low income families are less likely to graduate high school. In fact, in some states, the gap is really quite large.

From a policy standpoint, we need better strategies to assist low income parents in getting a job and in getting a job with higher wages. The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program allocates funds to states to assist families, but over the past two decades, states have only spent a tiny fraction of the funds they receive to support work strategies for these parents. There is no question, TANF is in need of reform. The House Ways and Means Committee has held several hearings this year and in July released a discussion draft to revamp the program to be more effective.

Assisting parents is one strategy to reduce poverty. Another strategy is to stop the cycle of dependency by investing in children. What we know about families with young children is that they need child care in order to work. A few are lucky and may have relatives available, able, and willing to assist with child care. However, most families are not so lucky, particularly low income parents who cannot afford market costs for child care.  boy playing w blocks, verticle stock

Studies show that high quality child care makes a difference for all children, but particularly for low income children. One of the main goals of the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) Act of 2014 is to increase the number and percentage of low income children in high quality care. The message is clear: child care is a key work support for parents, however, it is also a setting that should promote the healthy development of children. For low income children, starting school ready to succeed can lead to an increase in the high school graduation rate of low income students (which is currently 15% below their more economically well-off peers).

Unfortunately, over the last couple of years, CCDBG has served fewer and fewer children. A few months ago, the FY2014 CCDBG data was released, which showed that 1.4 million children received child care assistance each month – a reduction of 48,800 children from FY2013. And, the 1.45 million children who received assistance in FY2013 was a reduction of 47,500 children from FY2012. Therefore, in the last two years alone, nearly 100,000 fewer low income children have received child care assistance.

We know families on welfare need child care in order to work. We know low wage working families struggle with the cost of care and that child care assistance enables them to access higher quality care than they otherwise would be able to access. Does the quality of child care that low income families have access to really matter? The research demonstrates that it does. The neuroscience reveals that brain development, the wiring for social and emotional development as well as cognitive development, is formed in a child’s earliest years.  black boy w abbacus, vertical stock

When the Census Bureau released the newest poverty data, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) said, “This data should be acceptable to no one…. Our current approach to fighting poverty, though well-intended, is failing too many Americans. Solving the poverty challenge will require us to go into poor communities, customize approaches based on people’s needs, and focus our resources on what produces results. Rather than just treating the symptoms of poverty, our goal must be to help people move from welfare into work and self-sufficiency.”

Chairman Ryan is right. Another year with no reduction in poverty is unacceptable. However, to reduce poverty, a “parent-only” strategy is only half the battle. We need to focus as well on the low income children in these families so that the path forward is not another cycle of poverty but a roadmap to complete high school college or career ready. The gateway to a new roadmap begins with high quality child care.

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!

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.

Time to Strengthen the Child Care and Development Block Grant

The Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) is the primary source of federal child care funding for states.  Under CCDBG, funds are allocated to each state to help make child care more affordable for families and to help states engage in activities to improve the quality of child care.   The CCDBG statute contains few requirements, which has resulted in state laws that vary greatly.  In some states, a child care license is not required until 13 children are cared for in a home.  In many states, very little training is required for child care providers.  While child care policies are generally weak, oversight of those policies is even weaker.  Some states only conduct inspections every five or ten years.

The Child Care and Development Block Grant law has not been reviewed or reauthorized in 17 years.  Bipartisan legislation was recently introduced to strengthen the law – S. 1086, the Child Care and Development Block Grant Act of 2013.  In addition, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has recently proposed new regulations in an effort to strengthen the law to the extent possible under existing regulatory authority.  The comment period with regard to the new regulations is open to the public through August 5, 2013.

About 1.6 million children throughout the country receive child care assistance. The CCDBG law does not require that subsidies be used in licensed child care.  What does that mean?  About 18 percent or about 290,000 children are in unlicensed care.  While state licensing laws vary with regard to minimum health and safety protections for children, there are no minimums for unlicensed care.  Where are the children whose care is paid for with taxpayer dollars? See the tables below to see state by state information about taxpayer funded child care in your state.

Children Whose Care is Paid for Through CCDBG

Community economic vitality depends on the availability of quality, affordable child care.  The fact is that families with young children need child care to work.  And, child care is expensive.  All children in child care should be in settings that are safe and promote their healthy development.  When taxpayer dollars are used to assist families, there should be some accountability in the expenditure of those funds so that children are not in potential danger financed through public funds.  Both the Senate bill and the HHS proposed regulations will help strengthen the quality of child care and the accountability for child care funding.  Call your Senators today and urge support for S. 1086 introduced by Senators Mikulski, Burr, Harkin, and Alexander.  Comment on the HHS regulations and let the federal government know it’s time to strengthen federal policy to protect children.