Monday, June 4, 2018

There Are No Losers When We Invest in Early Child Care, So Why Won't Congress Act?

800px-Rick_Santorum_(17837492455)Believe it or not, this first half of this blog post's title is not my own.  It is Rick Santorum's.  This morning in The Roll Call, he penned an essay arguing that we should invest in early child care.  Here are the key lines:

Forty percent of American children under the age of five today grow up in families that earn less than $50,000 per year, and 70 percent live in households where all resident adults work.

For millions of parents juggling low-wage jobs, it’s a daily struggle to provide the basics, from housing and food to adequate medical care, let alone to afford high-quality child care. In many cases, these pressures and stresses are most acute just at the time when children are going through critical periods of cognitive and emotional development — years that lay the foundation for later learning and career success.

The good news is that the survey, conducted for the Bipartisan Policy Center, also found broad support for efforts to ensure that all children get a strong start in life.

By wide margins, liberal and conservative respondents alike expressed concern about the high cost of quality child care; agreed that many parents have too little time to spend with their children; felt that all children should be guaranteed the shelter, food, education and care needed to thrive; and supported programs to help child care workers earn a living wage. Importantly, a majority (54 percent) said they would be willing to pay higher taxes for programs that help children, even if those programs don’t directly benefit them.

Of course, conservative and liberal views on these topics differ. For example, conservatives are less likely to say that government has a primary responsibility to support early childhood development, are more concerned that government will overstep its role, and place a greater emphasis on parental involvement and teaching values in early childhood programs. Liberals, by contrast, see a greater role for government but are concerned that public programs will be ineffective or inefficient, and tend to prioritize academic and developmental foundations.

Beneath these differences, however, lies remarkable agreement about both the challenges that confront working families and the long-term wisdom of supporting healthy early childhood development for the good of the country.

Political leaders have begun to respond. Congress recently acted to strengthen several child- and family-friendly policies, including expanding the federal child tax credit, reauthorizing a program that provides home visits by a health professional to families with newborns or young children, and increasing funding for the Child Care and Development Block Grant program, which funds state efforts to increase access to quality child care.

. . . But there’s more to be done to support families with young children, and ensure that new investments in early childhood are well-designed and deliver the most bang for the buck. More progress is needed toward improving quality in child care and expanding access to high-quality child care options for working families.

. . . Few issues are more consequential than the success of families with young children , and few are more likely to command the kind of bipartisan support that would make such action possible again.

I have criticized Santorum on this blog in the past, so I owe him credit when it is due. On one hand, his essay is not that bold at all.  As he says, early child care has bi-partisan support.  On the other, politicians, at least those in office, find it near impossible to be bi-partisan now-a-days.  And for that reason, Santorum's willingness to raise attention for a bi-partisan measure is bold; he is stepping away from his party when he does it. 

As he says, conservatives are skeptical of these types of government programs and would prefer that families take care of themselves. But even more on point is the fact that when the Obama administration made a major push for expanding pre-kindergarten, the Republican controlled Congress, at best, ignored the proposal.  Others actually began attacking Head Start as an ineffective program and questioning the efficacy of pre-kindergarten, even though robust research and voters of all political stripes support it.  

So when Santorum suggests Congress should get its act together and expand early child care, he is trying to lead his party in a direction it does not really want to go.  Of course, he does not state it that way.  He suggests that they are on board with the general idea, pointing to a few minor things that the party can claim it has done to help families.  But those measures are window dressing. 

Take Invaka Trump's early child care initiative.  Anyone recall an actual proposal or discussion on that? I do recall large tax cuts for the wealthy.  I do recall an executive order to slim down the Department of Education.  I do recall Democratic Senator Patty Murray of Washington and Virginia Representative Bobby Scott proposed the "Child Care for Working Families Act" last fall.  I do not recall it getting any legislative action at the Committee level.  Like Secretary Duncan's pre-k proposal, the proposal was dead on arrival with the current leadership.

   --image by Gage Skidmore

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