Monthly Archives August 2013

Federal Child Care Changes Will Benefit Michigan Children

Last week was the final week to submit comments to the federal Administration for Children and Families – Office of Child Care regarding proposed rule changes to the Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF).  The CCDF is a federal program that provides a subsidy to child care providers to allow low-income parents work or attend training/education.  In Michigan, 27,700 families benefit from the child care subsidy to support care for their young children and before- and after-school care for children through age 12.  The CCDF currently gives states the flexibility to design subsidy systems that take into account local market dynamics, budgetary limitations and other factors unique to the local child care landscape which has resulted in significant differences in the child care subsidy system across states.  Many of the proposed rule changes would tighten up some of this flexibility based on research and data on what children and families need through a child care subsidy system.  The proposed rule changes would increase quality and access to child care for Michigan’s lowest-income families and would assist us in moving towards a more family-friendly child care system.

One of the proposed changes is to require rather than allow a period of job search for families receiving child care assistance who lose their jobs.  Michigan is only one of four states where families who receive the child care subsidy immediately lose this benefit if they lose their job.  In Michigan, where we’re continuing to rebuild our economy and struggle with unemployment rates higher than the national average, the lowest income earners are often the ones who have the least stability in their employment.  Thus, allowing some period for job searching can ensure that families retain their subsidy and that children can have some consistency in their care.

Another proposed change would require states to include a description of how their payment practices take into account the quality of child care and support high quality.  While the CCDF was set-up primarily as a work support, it does require states to spend at least four percent of their CCDF funds on activities designed to improve the quality of child care to promote healthy child development.  In Michigan, this has supported efforts to boost quality in child care settings for young children, but no efforts have been made to reform the payment structure to support higher quality settings.  This rule change would be a struggle for Michigan, since we’re one of three states that reimburse providers on an hourly schedule, with the vast majority of states providing daily, weekly, or even monthly payment structures that are more aligned with the current child care market.  Providing an hourly rate makes it more difficult for child care providers to provide quality care if they’re not receiving payment for times when a subsidized child is absent – times when private paying families would consistently be paying for their child care slot.  This inconsistency in payment makes it difficult for providers to rely on a consistent source of revenue to support their quality programming.

Furthermore, Michigan’s subsidy payments are sorely inadequate to ensure access to high quality child care.  Current CCDF rules require states to survey child care providers’ market rates every two years and recommend that rates be set so that families would be able to access 75 percent of the child care providers in their community (the 75th percentile).  However, this is currently a suggestion rather than a mandate.  In Michigan, payment rates vary between $1.35 an hour to a maximum of $3.75 an hour, depending on the age of the child and the setting for which s/he receives care – falling significantly short of the recommended 75th percentile.  For example, for a Michigan family to send their four-year-old to a child care center would cost, on average, $974 per month but with the child care subsidy, would only receive $433 per month.  Clearly these reimbursements are inadequate for parents to purchase high quality care.  If Michigan truly wants to provide a quality experience for low income children, providing a more robust reimbursement rate that aligns with the market would ensure that families can access the types of out-of-home learning environments they seek for their children.

Overall, the proposed rule changes to the CCDF are welcomed here in Michigan as we continue to build a comprehensive P-20 education system that also supports children in child care settings.  Access to high quality care can ensure that young children are better prepared for kindergarten and that students in elementary and middle school can access quality before- and after-school programming that promotes their learning.  Critical steps include: allowing families to maintain their subsidy when they lose their jobs and are seeking new employment; shifting the payment structure to daily, weekly, or monthly rates; and increasing the subsidy payment.  Regardless of the eventual rule changes, Michigan needs to work more proactively to provide a more family-friendly system that would allow families to access consistent, quality child care.

-Mina Hong

Early Childhood Education a Top Priority for Voters

On Wednesday, the First Five Years Fund and the Grow America Stronger coalition released findings from a national survey of registered voters to gauge public reception on early childhood education in the U.S. and the results should leave early childhood advocates shouting from rooftops.  The poll was done by a bipartisan research team – Hart Research and Public Opinion Strategies – resulting in a high validity of poll results due to the spectrum of political viewpoints polled as well as the objective framing of the questions.  When asked about their top national priorities, 86 percent of voters polled identified children getting a strong start in life, coming in second only to increasing jobs and economic growth.  Coming in a close third was improving the quality of our public schools at 85 percent – demonstrating that a strong start coupled with high quality K-12 education is what voters want our nation to prioritize.  These all came in above reducing the tax burden on families, which is important to remember when discussing funding priorities with elected officials.

Additionally, more than two-thirds of the polled voters say that half or fewer children start kindergarten with the needed skills.  We know this translates to teachers spending more classroom time with children who start kindergarten under-prepared, which affects all children in the classroom not just the children who are behind.  This is particularly important to remember when we talk about providing high quality early childhood programming to the lowest-income children or children with the greatest risk factors – this is actually beneficial to all young children when they enter kindergarten together.

Seven-in-ten voters (including 60% of Republicans, 64% of Independents and 84% of Democrats) voiced their support of federal efforts to help states expand access to high quality early childhood education programs.  When reiterated that these same efforts would not add to the national deficit, support increased further, with 72% Republicans, 71% Independents, and 88% Democrats in support.

In Michigan, we know that there’s broad support among our state legislators for high quality early childhood education as evidenced by the historic expansion of the Great Start Readiness Program. And, an opportunity to build off of our preschool efforts to expand quality early childhood education is possible through a deficit neutral early childhood education plan that is gaining momentum in Washington, D.C. and across the country.  This state-federal partnership would further leverage Michigan’s own efforts to expand four-year-old preschool and support additional efforts to build a more comprehensive early childhood system beginning at birth.  And with 63 percent of voters wanting Congress to act now on this issue, what are we waiting for?

Learn more about the poll results and the state-federal early childhood plan at the Grow America Stronger website.

-Mina Hong

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