2020 Policy Proposals: Child Care & Early Childhood Education

In Colorado and across most of the country, there is a growing child care crisis. Colorado has taken significant steps over the last several years to help families navigate early childhood education (ECE) and child care, such as instituting full-day kindergarten and expanding the Colorado Child Care Assistance Program (CCCAP), but much more work needs to be done to meet the growing needs across the state. That’s why it is heartening to see so many 2020 presidential contenders recognize this need.

Related: Quick Takes on 2020 Policy Proposals

The need for policy approaches that reduce the cost and increase the availability of child care and ECE is clear, and there are a host of them coming from those running for president in 2020. The policies fall into three buckets:

  • Universal child care through government assistance
  • Targeted tax credits to give families the ability to afford child care
  • Universal preschool and pre-K

Universal Child Care

Sen. Elizabeth Warren created the most concrete plans to implement universal child care, but others such as Sens. Kamala Harris and Amy Klobuchar and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke have similar ideas (they are currently, or have been, co-sponsors of the Child Care for Working Families Act, which has components that mirror Sen. Warren’s plan).

Through Sen. Warren’s plan, as well as the introduced Universal Child Care and Early Learning Act supported by Sens. Harris and Klobuchar and Rep. O’Rourke, the federal government would provide funding for all families — on a sliding scale depending on income — so no family would pay more than 7 percent of their income on child care. According to Sen. Warren, families now pay anywhere from 9 percent to 36 percent of their income on child care. In addition to the funding, the plan also:

  • Ensures the federal government partners with cities, school districts, and other local governments to create more options for both home-and center-based child care with licensed facilities
  • Creates quality standards similar to Head Start that will help parents find and afford the proper quality of care and education for their children
  • Requires a living wage for child care providers and teachers on par with elementary school teachers with similar credentials

Targeted Tax Credits

Another avenue 2020 presidential candidates are pursuing is through expanding tax credits that go to families and their children. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand has put forward a Family Bill of Rights that contains an expansion of the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit. Her proposal would double the tax and make it fully refundable, so families who don’t make enough income to pay federal taxes would still be able to claim it.

Sen. Michael Bennet has introduced a bill in Congress that differs from Sen. Gillibrand’s, but has similar ideas. His has been the main force behind the American Family Act that proposes to expand the child tax credit (distinct from the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit), which would put money into the pockets of families. This tax credit would again be administered on a sliding scale, giving more to those at the bottom of the income ladder. While the credit isn’t just for child care, it would certainly help families afford it.

Universal Pre-K

Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York and Julian Castro, former mayor of San Antonio, have experience in providing universal pre-K in their cities and propose doing it on a national scale. Gov. Steve Bullock also pushed for the first public investment in preschool in Montana’s history, and suggests similar policies nationally.

Pre-K has been shown to be an incredible long-term investment on many levels. It allows parents to work more with less turnover — the Economic Policy Institute finds affordable child care could increase maternal workforce participation in such a way as to raise national GDP up to $600 billion annually. Also, quality pre-K ensures children are better set up for success in school, and has tangible benefits for those children later in life.

Child Care in Colorado

Nearly 81 percent of Colorado families in the middle class are dual income, while more than 40 percent of Colorado children with two parents in the workforce (93,000 children) have no access to licensed care. As two-working-adult households become more and more necessary to break into and stay in the middle class, quality and affordable child care is a necessary part of Colorado’s growing economy.

This means children younger than kindergarten age need a place that furthers their social and educational development. However, those options are out of reach for too many Coloradans, as center-based child care averages $936 per month or $11,229 per year, while infant care can exceed $15,000 annually — amounts that multiply with more than one child. On top of this, the average pay for child care teachers in Colorado is only $12.32 an hour, which has led to sizable turnover and an inability to hire new staff.

Recognizing the urgent need for solutions, the Colorado legislature passed a universal full-day kindergarten plan during this year’s session. Signed into law by Gov. Polis, full-day K is part of a successful two-generation strategy, but another benefit includes the trickle-down effect it will have on early childhood education.

Money many school districts would’ve put toward implementing kindergarten programs will now be available for pre-K and other ECE programs. Given the cost to many families, more money to support these programs help children and have great dividends for them, their families, early childhood education workers, and the state going forward.

The Bell’s Work on Early Childhood Education

The Bell Policy Center has been a strong advocate for programs to help children and their families obtain affordable and quality child care and early childhood education. A large part of this is our work on the Colorado Child Care Assistance Program (CCCAP). This program provides subsidies to low-income families to help cover the cost of child care while parents are working, in school, or looking for work. It has proven to be a very successful program for those that qualify.

But as created, CCCAP stopped subsidies as soon as a family hit a certain income level. That caused perverse incentives for families contemplating new work, promotions, or similar situations. What came out of it was a cliff effect pilot program to institute a sliding scale of subsidies, so as not to punish families who end up making slightly more than the income level originally set forth in CCCAP.

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