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Investing in the Future of Quality Child Care for All

11 Jan 2022 by Teachstone

Those working the childcare field are passionate and driven. Even with the best of intentions, change can't happen without investments. Learn about funding opportunities that childcare providers can take advantage of, and how other providers are strategically using the money. 

In today’s episode, you’ll hear from Anne Hedgepeth, Child Care Aware® of America’s Deputy Chief of Policy, and Tiffany Lee, who serves as the Prenatal-to-Three Policy Advisor for the City of Seattle, Department of Education and Early Learning.

They discuss the funding coming to early childhood education, where it’s coming from, and how it can be used in ways that are sustainable and equitable.


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Darlene: Hello and welcome back to Impacting the Classroom. In each episode, you'll hear from educators, policymakers, and researchers who are making an impact in education. Today's topic is about funding. We have some real experts that we're going to hear from and we're excited about the conversation today. I'm Dr. Darlene Estes-Del Re.

Marnetta: I'm Marnetta Larrimer. Today, I'm joined by two esteemed guests who will share federal policy updates and what that means for funding early childhood education. My first guest is Anne Hedgepeth. Anne Hedgepeth is a Child Care Aware® of America's Deputy Chief of Policy. Welcome, Anne.

I'm also excited to be joined by Tiffany Lee, who serves as the Prenatal-to-Three Policy Advisor for the City of Seattle, Department of Education and Early Learning. Welcome, Tiffany.

Tiffany: Thank you.

Marnetta: Investing in early childhood means funding programs and innovative strategies for children. Numerous studies have demonstrated that children with access to quality early learning are more prepared for kindergarten. Anne, can you summarize what's happening at the federal level that may lead to more funding for early childhood programs?

Anne: Yeah, thanks for that question because it is a big moment for childcare and early learning when it comes to policy and particularly the opportunity that's ahead of us for increased investment in childcare and early learning. I think folks know this, but it's worth saying that the model right now isn't working. There is just not enough investment in childcare and early learning, and that gets passed through to parents.

They are paying a price that's way too high or out of reach. It gets passed through to educators who see suppressed wages and who ultimately continue the incredible job of caring for children, despite some of the really challenging elements of the career path related to compensation. We need to change that. We need to fix that. Ultimately, we have a chance to do that.

In some ways, it's really exciting to say that Congress and the White House have identified investing in childcare and early learning as a priority. As a result of the pandemic, relief funding is flowing to childcare and early learning, over $50 billion over the past 18 months. States are working to get that out the door, but that is not a long term solution. So we saw in the spring of 2021 that President Biden proposed a longer term investment in childcare.

Congress has drafted a bill called the Build Back Better Act that would do just that. It would put for six years, over $400 billion in childcare and preschool, and really make a difference in terms of bringing the price of childcare down for families. We'd see a majority of families be eligible for subsidy or maybe even have no copay when it comes to affording childcare.

We'd see states really change the way they pay childcare programs and providers, making sure that we're living wages for educators, and making sure that the money needed to build high quality programs flows into our childcare system. So it's really exciting. I think it's totally worth us talking about how to get it done because this is how we would transform and will transform childcare in the coming years.

Marnetta: Thinking about some of that funding, when and how can providers access this money?

Anne: Great question. Like I said, this isn't the long-term solution, but it's also really important given the moment we're in. States are distributing funding that they received from the three different COVID relief packages over the course of 2020 and 2021. Those are known as the CARES Act, CRRSA, a long acronym that, at the end of the day, hardly matters, and the American Rescue Plan Act, which all three taken together are putting a lot of money into the childcare system.

States are, right now, standing up stabilization grants. Those are available to programs and providers. They can be used for a whole host of things. There are many states, most states who have applications up right now and a few stragglers who we expect to have up in the next few weeks, in early 2022. I think it's really important for programs and providers to know that that money is available.

In most states, their applications are open or they've had one round of grants and may have a second round coming. But it is worth reaching out to some of those system leaders who can be really helpful, your state lead agency, check out their website. Your child care resource and referral agency in many states, they're helping distribute the funds and provide technical assistance.

That money is about paying your mortgage, rent, dealing with paying your staff, increasing compensation, recruitment bonuses, paying yourself if you haven't been for years. This is all about stabilizing the childcare system and those resources are available right now.

Marnetta: Thank you so much.

Darlene: Tiffany, I know you're a fierce advocate for family child care programs. Tell me how they fit into the equation and how they can access the funding?

Tiffany: Absolutely. As Anne had mentioned, these state lead agencies are dispersing or making available these grants, the stabilization grants. Just like their center counterparts, family child care providers can connect with their local Child Care Aware® organizations or even state licensors. I think that part of the money that was given to states is allocated for technical assistance and for marketing and outreach, which I thought was a really great and exciting thing. It's a recognition that you can't just make it available.

Access is about translation of materials because so many of our providers serve emerging English learners. I think for family child care, there's a sense that people in this field are doing it because they have good hearts and they love children. I think that that's true. But when we talk about money and childcare, it's almost as if we expect childcare providers to not make a profit, like it’s evil. They're not in it for the money.

They should be able to pay their mortgage or their rent, or they should be able to have a car that doesn't break down all the time. So I always think it's interesting when we talk about the financing of childcare. You have so many great points and I'm also very hopeful, this is a very exciting time.

I think a silver lining in this really profoundly heartbreaking scenario and circumstance of COVID-19 is the world stopped, and I feel like early childhood and childcare providers, in particular, emerged as leaders and essential. We really saw the field as being essential not just to child development, which absolutely it is, but to the economy. So we are garnering support from corners of the world that we didn't know we would have support from.

Marnetta: I love that you mentioned the profit piece. I think a lot of times, people don't understand how much it costs to run a childcare facility. Making a profit is hard. It'd be great as a goal, but with regulations, paying the insurance for the transportation, and just all of the costs in that, there's never enough money to support running a facility.

I do think, a lot of times, we don't think about the cost of running that specific type of business and educating your teachers. They have to have so many clock out. Just all of the different things, and the amount of money that it costs to do that.

Tiffany: I love what you're saying. I think now, especially, with everyone having been challenged with a workforce sort of shortage, it's more important than ever that we're paying these educators to keep them, to retain them, and even to attract people.

If you have a choice between working at Starbucks or Target, or following your heart and your calling in life, it shouldn't be the difference between health insurance and not health insurance, or being able to pay for a place to live or not being able to pay for a place to live. Thank you, Marnetta. I agree.

Anne: I also think that one of the things that [...] each identifying is that you this isn't about a race to the bottom and who can create the cheapest childcare, that this is about recognition of what it takes to build and invest in high-quality childcare and early learning that is developmentally appropriate. Where educators can invest in themselves and their professional development. It is hard to say this, but that does take money.

That is about our priorities in our communities and as a country, and building a partnership where the appropriate amounts of resources come from families and from our public investment as a whole and from us all as a part of investing in the future. We are on the cusp of getting so much closer to a better formula, I guess, for lack of a better word. Because right now, it doesn't add up.

It doesn't add up for so many programs who are really struggling to figure out how to make it work and for so many families who get priced out and for whom access is not real because they can't afford it or they can't afford the kind of childcare that they're looking for, the high-quality childcare they're looking for. I think those dynamics are all very caught up in also just the math that so many program directors, owners, and educators are dealing with every day.

Darlene: I appreciate that, Anne. I think with the family child care providers, the pandemic has also revealed just how amazing they are as essential workers, even beyond the fact that they showed up and stayed the course. But I think it also revealed to folks how flexible they are in how they meet families where they need them outside the normal hours. They constantly do that, whether it's different days of the week and different times of the day.

I think that's setting up a different model for folks to think about what families really need, but what's the price of that and what's the quality? It's all kind of wrapped around that. But Tiffany, I'm also curious, just in this space of the family child care providers. What are you hearing about how they want to use the money and maybe what they're hoping for, or also what you're hoping that they might think about?

Maybe two-prong there. What do you hear maybe they want to use the money for? And then maybe what you're hoping they might also consider?

Tiffany: That's a great question. I've heard a range of things. As Anne had mentioned, states vary in terms of where they are in dispensing these funds.

I've heard everything from, I've been putting off fixing the toilet that is leaking and is causing my water bill to be higher than it really should, all the way to, I'm putting this away because this might happen again. There might be a period where children can't be in care and I'm not going to have an income. I'm hearing everything in between those.

A lot of people are talking about catching up things that they had put off, and not even luxuries. They just feel very practical expenses right now. I think it's a manifestation, again, of our really flawed financing system of childcare.

I hope that they would use it on things and not feel like they're being selfish. Because, again, I really feel—based on the family child care providers I know—there's this proclivity to selflessness as if that's a good thing. That's our unspoken expectation, but at the same time, we facilitate training about self-care. It's just really ironic and unfortunate, but I'm not putting money aside.

I'd like for all of us to mobilize around this momentum that we've built around how essential and necessary family child care is, especially, to your point, Darlene about nontraditional hours. I think about our shift and pivot to the gig economy and how that is challenging the way we think about the nine to five, and we'll need care for that.

Also thinking about single parents, single fathers, single mothers, and how in order for them to continue to progress in their career, they really need reliable and trustworthy childcare and have found it in family child care providers, but it should be compensated fairly. I sort of answered it.

Darlene: I know that. I think that we've touched on many of those things. I don't know if you wanted to add to that. I think Marnetta has some.

Marnetta: I do. There are so many things that Tiffany said that I just want to follow up on. I think across states, some states, family child care isn't really legitimized. My question would be, when we're talking about funding and the value of family child care, how do we ensure that family child care providers who are not licensed but still provide quality services have access to what they need as well?

Here in the state of Louisiana, we don't license family child care. They can be registered, but they still don't have access to all of the things legally, the funding. They don't have access to the pools of money that other facilities have access to. So how do we support them?

Tiffany: I think, typically, they don't license exempt or register family child care providers. They don't typically have access to these. But correct me if I'm wrong, Anne. I think that these ARPA funds are available to Family, Friend, and Neighbor care, and family child care providers.

Anne: One of the things I really want to name, and I'm so glad you brought this up, is that states have dramatically different systems across the country. We use terms like licensed, registered, regulated, and license exempt. They mean different things in different places. The work that childcare programs, family child care, and some of these faith-based childcare programs are a part of all of those various tools.

The work that they do to be high quality is often not a part of some of the things that maybe they do to be recognized in the state right now because those aren't very well aligned. We do also allow many of the programs who are registered, regulated, license exempt to participate in things like the subsidy system. That's because there is a mishmash across the country in terms of requirements.

Ultimately, relief funds have generally been made available to programs that one, are part of the subsidy system. In many states, that means that they are licensed, registered, regulated, something in that whole category. Other states have been using some of the funds which they're allowed, from certain pools of it, to reach even those that are part of the subsidy system through grants or other forms of support.

So it is possible. I think this is an important message to folks. It is possible that there is some support out there for you. One of the things we learned in the pandemic is that so many states don't have great ways to reach every single childcare educator, program, or provider. They may be seeking to build pathways for many of those to be come into a more recognized system to support them in their quality efforts to do work that would make a difference in their communities.

We don't currently operationalize that, and that has to change. Some states have really changed that over the course of the pandemic. Things like their Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies have called every single program and provider in the state that they can find to update information and get their email address. I know in several states where CCR and our staff are going door to door to programs and providers carrying tablets to help them to apply for any of the grants that are available.

There are some really cool things happening. Child Care Aware® of Kansas has navigators to help childcare programs and providers who may also need to maybe bring some of their financial information up to date in order to apply. If that's part of it, then let's get it done. But ultimately, I think we also have to talk about moving towards a future where we don't have all these different categories, where we actually figure out how to build appropriate standards for different types of settings.

They wouldn't be the same, but they would exist so that we don't have people who are in or out, and we figure out how to create pathways for them to be a part of this important investment that's coming. The Build Back Better Act does that, but it's hard work and it will be hard work. It requires states to build licensing standards in conjunction with the programs and providers in different settings, then create a pathway for all of them, and the money they need to do it.

That is hard work and that's what we all have to gear up for if that's on the horizon. It's going to be a project. Right now isn't working great, but there are some relief funds available. The future could get better, but we're going to have to figure out how to make that happen.

Marnetta: Wonderful. That was a great response. What are some themes emerging from state requirements on how they plan to strategically use the funds? As we think about that, and I'll start with you, equity, support, workforce, recovery efforts, talk to me some about that.

Anne: We've been talking mostly about stabilization grants in this conversation, but states got money that they can also use to bring down or eliminate copays for families. We have a number of states who have done that. For example, Georgia has just bumped their eligibility up to the maximum allowed under current law. That means something like 100,000 more children will be able to be a part of the subsidy system in that state using relief funds.

That's a game-changer for families. It's really important when we talk about what difference relief funds can make. We've seen a number of states building bonuses for educators and programs or getting additional funding if they increase compensation. I think that's going to be really critical when we look at recruitment and retention in the field over the next few months and years for that matter.

So those are all, I think, really interesting places to start to poke and think about like, okay, great, we've done this, good thing, how can we keep it going? What kind of a difference would this make in terms of families and our educators, both of whom are driving our economy?

Marnetta: Tiffany, did you want to add anything to that question?

Tiffany: Because we're sort of weaving through two types of funding. One is I think around appropriate compensation or fair compensation, so long term, and then the other one is these short term bursts of grants. That just makes me think about how we're asking families to pay for education.

In the K-12 system, if there weren't a public investment in K-12, everyone would be paying $12,000 a year for their children to be in school. That's a screaming deal. Especially now, having had children at home and virtual school, they just don't pay teachers enough. I think we can all agree with that.

It just makes me think about, when we're having this national conversation, is it a matter of like a paradigm shift, helping people see not the value, because I feel like the value, there's a consensus that it is valuable, but also that it's worth a public investment in the way that K-12 system has a public investment.

Again, that's the Build Back Better. It's very exciting that this could be coming. But I wonder what role we have in sort of messaging that, and what role we have in normalizing care as part of this continuum of education?

It's really tricky, because then, you have purists that are like, it's not education, it's different, which I think we mean the same thing. There's an education or a human development approach there too. Is it human services or is it education? It's both.

Marnetta: Exactly. It's intertwined.

Anne: It's interesting, too. I feel like something that should be named here, as well, connected to what you're saying to me is who are we talking about? Because there's a real conversation about equity to be had there as well.

It is important to talk about these things on the macro level as the investment and the comparison to K-12. But also, let's be real about who's doing the work right now and being, in many ways, marginalized, taken advantage of, and not in a way that anyone is a victim, but is a result of generations of our approach to how women, and in particular women of color, who are caregivers are treated in our society.

I do think that that's hard to grapple with. As someone who does government relations work, I know it's not the rallying cry for every politician I talked to, but it's really important as a place of grounding. Then when we talk about how money flows, because money is ultimately how we get some stuff done and it's how we express our priorities as a country in a lot of ways, as depressing as that is—thank you capitalism—we then also have to grapple with where the money is going.

I do want to mention, and I forgot to say this earlier when we were talking about relief funding and tackling equity issues is measuring where our money goes. Knowing where it goes, also, I think is a helpful part of the discussion. So that when we talk about the resourcing of the sector, the sector of women, when we talk about resourcing our youngest children and investing in them, we are clear that we're doing it and we're doing it well in an equitable way.

We have seen some states, and in particular, when they have an intermediary, helping them distribute stabilization grants, who were keeping track. They know, and they are in some cases, this is like a gold star, but it shouldn't have to be something you get an award for. They're transparent about it. They're like, these are the programs, these are the providers, these are the settings, these are the areas in the state, these are the owners of the programs and their race and gender makeup.

We should be talking about that because when we miss on those elements and we're not able to fill in those gaps, we perpetuate some of the inequities that exist within the childcare system, much less, outside in relation to it.

I know that was a little bit of a mishmash, but my brain was thinking through, yeah, let's talk about this, this as a public good. But also, part of our country's hesitation is the who. Who is a part of childcare right now and how hard that is for us to grapple with resourcing it well?

Marnetta: That was a beautiful mishmash though. Absolutely beautiful mishmash. I love that you mentioned some forces outside of the education setting that really impacts what happens here. What are some other things that would be important for us to address outside of education to ensure that there's going to be an equal playing field for the children?

Anne: I think when we have conversations about childcare, it can happen in a vacuum of the experience and the lives that both the children, families, and childcare educators are having. What I mean is, we have to also consider some of the food insecurity that our children, families, and educators are facing. We have to consider some of the housing insecurity that children, families, and educators are facing.

We can solve some things about childcare, but that doesn't necessarily mean that we have solved the realities of poverty and of income insecurity for everyone who's engaged in that system. That means the partnerships and the work that we do, I do it on a policy level and coalition building. So many of you all do it on a community level when you're thinking about who you are working with and collaborating with.

Those things come along with making childcare available, accessible, and affordable. We have to do those other pieces too. So I think that's one part of the puzzle when I think about what we're facing.

Marnetta: Tiffany, do you have any thoughts on that question?

Tiffany: Yeah. Thank you, Anne. That's a good place to start, for sure. Just to build on your point, I think that there's an opportunity to look at it holistically and to look at not just the child but the whole family. It reminds me of conversations that we've had in K-12 around these performance metrics, the standardized assessments and tying teacher compensation or quality to the outcome of those measures, and how things way outside of the control of the educator or the school grossly affect the child's performance.

You can be an engaging master teacher and be working miracles in the classroom. But if the child is returning to a home that is challenged by material poverty, food insecurity, housing insecurity, that's something that even the best instruction I don't think can overcome. That's just what that made me think about. We think about childcare as being something that can realize or be a vehicle for realizing the advancement of racial equity, or at least I do.

There are all these other moving parts. Sometimes I just sit back and wonder, maybe instead of focusing on that alone, how can we pull in our sisters and brothers that are working in housing, in food, human services, and really support the whole family? So I appreciate that.

Darlene: Tiffany, I love that. We always know the sketch phrase in early childhood that it takes a village to raise a child, but I think we've gotten away from our village. We have silos within our village, but hearing you talk made me think about bringing all the pieces of our villages together so that we're working for the good of the whole community.

All families, all children, and the whole community is an opportunity to be the new model. We've got a lot of opportunities with Build Back Better. I appreciate you bringing that up. Any other thoughts there?

I wanted to say thank you both for just joining this conversation today. I've enjoyed just hearing about what's possible yet, keeping our eyes on Build Back Better, thinking about a new model and what we can do, and also messaging that, yes, this is a lot of funding coming to the way of early childhood, but it needs to be long-term.

I heard that loud and clear because it's important for us to message to the greater public. Because there could be a misunderstanding to say, you got the money and now that's one and done. But really to understand that it's been a long time coming, there's more yet to be done, and it needs to be sustainable and equitable, and that equal doses of funding is not equitable. So to really get that message out there too that just passing out equal buckets or bundles is not the way there either. I'm encouraged and just appreciate your thoughts around these issues today, and I know that our listeners will too.

We're going to post the transcription and the related resources on our site at teachstone.com\impacting. We will see you next episode when we will have an exciting and engaging conversation around Universal Pre-K and what that could mean for families, educators, and communities.

Marnetta: Remember, behind great leading and teaching are powerful interactions. Let's build that culture together. Thank you, guys, for coming.

Anne: Thanks for having me.

Tiffany: Yes, thank you.

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