How the Build Back Better Act Will Dramatically Improve the Lives of our Youngest Learners
Families of kids under five face a particular set of challenges when it comes to child care. Early care and learning facilities across the country have shut down or have no availability and are struggling to find and keep staff. Therefore, so many families must coordinate care day by day by piecing together help from friends and family and crossing their fingers they’ll find an open, affordable program spot. This daily chaos for families of young children reflects our nation’s lack of public investment in early childhood education and a grave mismatch between science and policy.
Research continuously highlights the powerful effects of high-quality early care and education on children’s brains and long-term outcomes, yet too many children lack access to these opportunities due to high cost and limited supply. Now with the Build Back Better Act, Congress has an unprecedented opportunity to pass legislation that could work toward helping American families and giving states even more power to address long-standing inequities in three major ways:
- The Build Back Better Act would guarantee access to high-quality preschool for all 3- and 4-year-olds, prioritizing children from underserved communities and providing programming in additional settings to meet families’ needs and preferences. Currently, only 6% of 3-year olds and 34% of 4-year olds are enrolled in high-quality public preschool programs nationally, and states provide even less access to high-quality programs for Black and Latino youth.
- The Build Back Better Act would decrease working families’ child care costs significantly while making child care higher quality and more accessible for children ages birth through five, including for children in underserved areas, from families with low incomes, dual language learners, children who require care during nontraditional work hours, and children with disabilities. The cost of child care is prohibitively expensive for families with low and middle incomes, with the average cost of center-based infant child care higher than a family’s average cost of food and transportation combined. Finding child care is too difficult, as many families live in child care deserts.
- The Build Back Better Act would significantly improve compensation for child care providers and preschool teachers, leading to better recruitment and retention of early educators – overwhelmingly women and disproportionately women of color – who currently earn poverty wages in most states. It would also fund career advancement opportunities for child care workers, as well as personnel preparation and programs to diversify the workforce that educates young children with disabilities. Our nation has long undervalued early educators, which has negative consequences on both the lives of the workforce and the quality of care children receive.
When families must rely on the ability to work from home with young kids, or to get ad hoc child care help from relatives while they try to find a long-term solution, it worsens the existing inequities in who can access high-quality early care and learning. For families who have no access to quality care options at all, the impact is immediate through lack of income and long-term through missed opportunities for children. Students in K-12 head back to their classrooms to learn and develop, so our youngest learners deserve a nurturing program that’s just for them too.
Dr. Carrie Gillispie is the Senior Research Associate at The Education Trust
Amanda Guarino is the Policy Director of the First Five Years Fund