The Year’s Developments and Trends in State Early Childhood Policy and Advocacy
As the COVID caseloads declined and the masks came off, 2023 was a year for getting back to business. The question was whether we would return to old ways of thinking, and investing, and spending, or whether we would learn from the pandemic and respond accordingly. Most states were flush with strong revenues and remaining federal relief funds. What would they prioritize in their budget allocations? Would they (a) hold on to them for a future rainy day, (b) give them back as tax credits, or (c) invest in programs and systems that made their state stand out as a great place to raise a family?
The answer is: all of the above.
In this report we highlight the state investments advocates and their in-state partners successfully pursued to improve outcomes for young children and their families: from continuous coverage for children on Medicaid for the first six years of their lives, to universal, statewide paid family and medical leave, to historic increases in state funding for child care, to the creation and expansion of child tax credits that will dramatically reduce poverty in some states. And one state–Minnesota—did all of the above!
The past year showed that state governments can and do act to improve child well-being, but we know pendulums swing, federal relief funds disappear, and state economies cool. The future will test state commitment to prioritizing children and families. Will they sustain investments? Will there be a powerful, unified voice advocating for this and more?
At the Alliance for Early Success, our theory of change grounds all our work in pursuit of this precise outcome: a powerful, diverse, and durable constituency for early childhood issues. It is both the bold vision and the incremental strategy to achieve it. We work to build a formidable state advocacy voice that outlasts any particular political party in power and any particular budget cycle. The goal is to engage the workforce, parents, local philanthropy, community organizers, policymakers, and the faith community. The more the better, and the more diverse the better, so everywhere you turn in a state you hear that the early years are important, we need to think bigger about how we invest in them, and we are not going away.
This report provides a snapshot of what happened in 2023, but I encourage you to check out our state policy landscape webpages for state-by-state details on what happened, including who is working at the state level to make it happen. We know our grantees play an essential role in these accomplishments while also recognizing they cannot do it alone. That is why we are dedicating $10 million in the coming years to build the collective power that is necessary for every child, in every state, to have what they need in the early years to realize their full potential.
With hope for the future,
Helene Stebbins, Executive Director
Alliance for Early Success
Strong state economies, combined with expiring federal pandemic relief funds, led to some of the most significant investments in recent memory. Wins came from an array of policy areas–from maternal and child health to child care to family economic support–and from the executive and legislative branches, as well as from the people through ballot initiatives.
One of the big headlines of 2023 was the surge in states taking the option to extended Medicaid coverage to 12 months postpartum. Only four states have yet to do this since it became an option for federal matching funding in April of 2022. States are also following Oregon and Washington’s lead, offering continuous coverage for kids on Medicaid for the first 3 to 6 years of the child’s life. Congratulations to California, Colorado, Hawaii, Ohio, New Mexico, Minnesota, and North Carolina, who are on the path to do this in 2023.
In response to the threat to the Indian Child Welfare Act, six states passed laws, joining 10 others, that provide the same protections. Shout out to Colorado, Maine, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, and Wyoming for not relying on the Supreme Court to affirm the federal law.
Maine and Minnesota join 12 other states providing universal, statewide paid family and medical leave.
Maryland, Minnesota, Oregon, and Utah created new, permanent child tax credits, and 7 other states expanded their existing child tax credits–some doubling or tripling the previous amounts, dramatically reducing child poverty in those states.
States also made some of the largest investments of their own general revenue funds in early childhood programs. And a handful of states established new, dedicated funding streams for young children. Vermont passed a payroll tax to fund child care, Alaska, Colorado, and Texas passed ballot initiatives that increase funding for early learning. And Kentucky, Ohio, and Oregon tapped into lottery and casino revenues.
We celebrate states that invested to continue the child care innovations and supports, some of which were initially funded through COVID-relief dollars. New state dollars increased child care subsidy rates, lowered copayments, and increased the compensation and benefits for the child care workforce.
In 2023, Alabama made its largest annual increase in state pre-k funding, Alaska made the largest increase in early childhood programs in decades, and North Dakota allocated state funds for child care for the first time ever. Our Child Care Policy Roadmap 2023 highlights actions states have taken to create more equitable and ambitious child care systems.
We also celebrate the administrative policy wins—like Louisiana‘s State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, who codified social emotional development in the state’s early learning standards—and the systems-level wins—like South Carolina‘s permanent authorization of South Carolina First Steps, which ensures the future of a comprehensive, statewide, public-private partnership working to build a strong early childhood system so that young children have the best possible start in life.
Read on for more details on what Alliance grantees in all 50 states and the District of Columbia are sharing about what happened in 2023.
The end of the COVID public health emergency required states to redetermine eligibility for Medicaid and CHIP for the first time since early 2020. The redetermination process has meant more than two million children have lost Medicaid coverage, but advocates in every state are working to keep the public informed of this “unwinding” of coverage. Alliance ally Georgetown Center for Children and Families created a toolkit for states advocates to communicate about the renewal process, coverage loss, and reenrollment.
In spite of this headwind, states found bipartisan agreement on policies to advance child and maternal health, including extension of Medicaid coverage to 12-months postpartum, reimbursement of doula services as a Medicaid benefit, continuous Medicaid enrollment for young children, and more. Alliance state allies collaborated with communities disproportionally impacted by health disparities and enlisted the support of unusual allies, including faith communities, to push policymakers to make maternal and child health a priority.
States in 2023 Reporting Changes in State Funding
for Maternal and Child Health*
Access to health care coverage ensures that children can receive appropriate preventive and primary care as well as treatment for any health issues that arise. Continuous coverage for children has been shown to reduce financial barriers to care for low-income families, promote health equity, and provide states with better tools to hold health plans accountable for quality care and improved health outcomes. Starting January 2024, all children in Medicaid and CHIP will qualify for a full year of coverage, as required by the 2022 Consolidated Appropriations Act.
Over and above the upcoming 12-month requirement, a growing number of states – now 10 – are advancing multiyear continuous eligibility for young children. Continuous coverage legislation passed in 2023 in Colorado (3 years, up to age 4, also includes a state feasibility study looking at extending to age 6), Minnesota (5 years, up to age 6) and Ohio (3 years, up to age 4). Legislators in Rhode Island and Montana also considered multi-year continuous eligibility for young children and Texas and Maryland lawmakers introduced similar measures.
“State advocates have called for the common-sense change to make Medicaid coverage available continuously for young children from birth to kindergarten. This means they won’t miss out on check-ups, vaccines or screenings because of lost paperwork or long call wait times that disenrolled them from Medicaid even if the child remained eligible.”
According to the American Immigration Council, 1 in 4 children in the United States have at least one immigrant parent and roughly 6 million children under the age of 18 are living with an undocumented parent or caregiver. Children of undocumented immigrant parents comprise 7.25 percent of all children in the U.S. Undocumented immigrants are generally ineligible to enroll in Medicaid and CHIP or to purchase coverage through the ACA Marketplaces. Thirteen states and Washington, D.C., provide Medicaid or CHIP to income-eligible children, regardless of immigration status by using state dollars: Oregon, Washington, California, Colorado, Illinois, New York, New Jersey, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Maine. Michigan joined them in 2023 with $32.1 million and a Medicaid policy change to end the state’s five-year waiting period for immigrant children and pregnant individuals eligible to enroll in Medicaid or MIChild (CHIP).
Research suggests that state coverage expansions for immigrants can reduce uninsurance rates, increase health care use, and improve health outcomes.
Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that the maternal mortality rate for all women nearly doubled between 2018 to 2021, climbing from 17.4 maternal deaths per 100,000 births in 2018 to 32.9 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births in 2021. And as in years past, Black and Indigenous women continued to experience by far the highest rate of maternal mortality. (The rate for Black women is three times higher than White women and the rate for Indigenous women is two times higher.) The ongoing maternal health crisis has prompted policymakers across the political spectrum to take action to improve maternal health outcomes.
In 2023, lawmakers extended Medicaid coverage to 12-months postpartum in states including Alaska, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming.
We have seen unprecedented state uptake of any new Medicaid option with the extended coverage for pregnant women from 60 days to a full year postpartum—all but four states have taken the new federal option, which only became available in 2022. Beyond adopting the postpartum extension, state advocates have also called on state leaders to ensure the coverage works as intended—that pregnant people and their infants get the right care at the right time during high-stakes periods of family change and rapid early development. This has led to more states looking at Medicaid coverage for doulas and midwives to community health workers or parent-child services without a child mental health diagnosis.
Doulas are non-medical, trained health care workers who support pregnant people before, during, and after pregnancy. Doula care is among the most promising approaches to combating disparities in maternal health. Pregnant and birthing people receiving doula care have been found to have improved health outcomes for both themselves and their infants, including higher breastfeeding initiation rates, fewer low-birth weight babies, and lower rates of cesarean births. During the 2023 legislative session several states took action to include doulas as part of Medicaid coverage, including Alabama, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Michigan, and Ohio. For a full accounting of state level efforts to reimburse doula services through Medicaid, visit the Doula Medicaid Project.
In proposing her Healthy Moms, Healthy Babies Initiative that includes doula coverage, Michigan’s Governor Whitmer said, “Expecting Michiganders deserve to have the care they need to have a healthy pregnancy. Yet, more than 63 percent of maternal deaths in Michigan are preventable, and Black women are nearly three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women. By providing doula services we are helping address health disparities and ensuring access to high-quality health care that meets their individual needs.”
Nevada passed a bill to allow for Medicaid to reimburse for services provided by Community Health Workers who are supervised by another provider. Community health workers (CHWs) are lay members of the community who work in association with the local health care system. CHWs usually share ethnicity, language, socioeconomic status, and life experiences with the community members they serve. Indiana legislators approved several bills aimed at improving access to contraceptives, doulas and other programs to decrease maternal and infant mortality.
In 2023, states made progress towards reforming their child welfare state laws to prioritize keeping families together as they work to implement the federal Family First Prevention Act of 2018.
Policymaking in child welfare has a long history of bipartisanship and has sparked important reform efforts to promote child safety, well-being and family stability, among other goals. In 2023, more than 250 legislative proposals were introduced on topics ranging from child abuse and neglect prevention, reporting and investigating child abuse and neglect, recruiting and retaining foster families, supporting relatives and kinship caregivers, and more. Several bills were introduced on hot-button topics such as religious freedom and LGBTQ rights, areas where starkly different political viewpoints exist. Most child welfare topics received bipartisan attention and support. Proposals that generated the greatest bipartisan support in 2023 were bills to improve training for mandatory reporters of suspected child abuse or neglect, as well as bills to improve the quality and availability of services to children and youth in foster care, particularly mental health services.
Prior to the Supreme Court upholding the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) in the case of Haaland v. Brackeen, the Alliance hosted a National Issues/ State Action webinar on Indigenous Sovereignty and the Indian Child Welfare Act. In the weeks surrounding the 7-2 decision, states moved to enact legislation to codify state versions of ICWA in whole or in part, as well as measures to enhance oversight of ICWA compliance and to support foster placements of Indian children. States that passed ICWA legislation include Colorado, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota and Wyoming.
Kinship care also received significant attention from state lawmakers in 2023. Kinship care is widely considered best practice given the positive benefits associated with children who are connected to family, culture and community. Lawmakers from both parties introduced bills to provide financial assistance for relative caregivers, including guardianship assistance, as well as measures to improve family finding and prioritize kinship placements and connections. States enacting kinship legislation in 2023 included Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Hawaii, and New Mexico. According to survey results, our allies in Pennsylvania identified improving and expanding kinship care and permanency as their best policy opportunity in 2024.
Overall, maternal health is a growing focus in the Alliance grantee network. Three quarters of states report* that they prioritize maternal health in their policy agendas and they want to learn more about infant mental health support and treatment, access to adequate coverage for quality maternal health services, racial disparities in maternal health and birth outcomes, and the impact of social determinants of health like economic security and housing on maternal health outcomes. To support this learning, the Alliance hosted a maternal health webinar series in partnership with national organizations including Georgetown Center for Children and Families, Elephant Circle, Black Mamas Matter Alliance, and Reproductive Health (RH) Impact.
State and national advocates started 2023 with an agenda focused on funding. The year started with significant increases in the federal budget for child care and Head Start, but without a federal plan to offset the gaps left by expiring COVID relief funds. At the national level, advocates continued to track the uses of the federal COVID relief funds to demonstrate the impact of the funds and the continued need and worked with state advocates to document the crisis coming in the child care system as the funds expire. For example, the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) explored the impact of the COVID relief funds in four states—Louisiana, Michigan, New York, and Virginia—and found that they invested in innovation, supported the workforce, and aligned existing systems to better serve children and families. Child Care Aware of America continue to track state uses of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds.
To continue these efforts, most states explored new sources of funding for child care, partnered in new ways with business and other partners, and were able to address access, affordability and quality in their child care systems. States used increased resources to build on the policy innovations that were created with federal COVID relief funds. They raised reimbursement rates for providers and increased compensation for providers, increased eligibility to serve more low-income working families, decreased or eliminated copayments, and addressed supply issues in under-resourced communities.
As COVID relief funds expired, state advocates worked for new state investments, and many were successful.
Among all states and D.C. surveyed, 20 percent reported a relatively small increase, and 41 percent reported a relatively large increase in state funding to improve quality and access to child care.* While the majority of new funds came through general revenues, a number of states used tax revenue, lottery funds, or other sources to support their child care systems.
Earlier this year, the Alabama legislature passed the largest ever single year increase in funding for early care and education. The Alabama School Readiness Alliance, a coalition of business partners, parents, providers, philanthropy, and other advocates worked to make a strong case for the need for increased investments in the ECE system. With funds from the State Education Trust Fund, the state will increase funding for the Alabama Quality Stars Quality Rating and Improvement System for Child Care by $30 million.
Several states supported supply building efforts through new funding sources. Colorado continued the Child Care Contribution Tax Credit, which allows any taxpayer who makes a monetary contribution to promote child care in the state to take an income tax credit that is equal to 50 percent of the total value of the contribution. The act extends the long-standing credit for three years. Similarly, the state budget in Indiana includes $250 million for a tax credit that will help small employers recover up to 50 percent of the cost of starting their own child care facilities for employees, with a cap of $100,000. Oregon allocated $50 million in lottery funds to support the expansion of child care facilities across the state.
Starting in August, providers in Missouri will see an increase in their reimbursement rates, as part of a new investment of $78.5 million in the child care system. This increase will be supported by COVID relief (ARP) funds in the first year.
The Vermont state legislature made a historic investment in the state’s child care system of more than $76 million in new funding in state fiscal year 2024 and nearly $125 million in state fiscal year 2025. Funded through a new payroll tax, the new program will increase reimbursement rates for all providers, including child care centers and family child care, increase eligibility for child care subsidy, provide ongoing stability grants, and create minimum pay standards for early educators. Let’s Grow Kids organized providers, families, and others impacted by the lack of child care to pass Act 76, then launched an effort to ensure that the new law is implemented effectively.
The Bipartisan Policy Center published a report to help states understand how federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funds can be used for child care, and several states used that flexibility in 2023. New Hampshire used prior year TANF funds for child care, while Nevada transferred TANF funds to the child care subsidy program.
Local initiatives also addressed child care needs. For example, in Alaska, the Alaska Children’s Trust worked to pass a ballot initiative in Anchorage to use an existing tax on marijuana sales for early childhood initiatives. As a result, the city will have an additional $5-6 million to support families looking for child care. In New York, New York City created the Childcare Center Abatement, a property tax abatement for property owners whose property construction, conversion, alteration, or improvement completed after April 1, 2022, resulted in the creation of a new child care center or an increase in the maximum number of children who can be served in an existing center. In Ohio, Action for Children published a toolkit to help communities use grants available through the CHIPS and Science Act to address child care gaps at the local level.
In February, advocates used the Alliance listserv to explore how to develop and use early childhood data dashboards. At the same time, several state advocacy organizations were investing in efforts to better understand their systems. In South Dakota, Early Learner South Dakota, an initiative of the South Dakota AEYC and the Committee for Economic Development partnered to design a comprehensive set of statewide interactive early care and education program data maps to address South Dakota’s historical challenge of having very little publicly available child care supply and demand information. The maps, which include socio- economic demographic data layered with detailed early child program supply data at the neighborhood level, offer South Dakota communities a readily accessible, accurate and timely snapshot of early childhood landscape for the first time. In Ohio, Groundwork Ohio developed a set of data dashboards, which include more than 60 metrics across six domains spotlighting the immense challenges and broad inequities faced by families in the state.
A package of bills passed the North Dakota legislature in support of child care providers. House Bill 1540 includes a one-time investment of $66 million for the 2023-25 biennium for child care assistance and early childhood services. The funding will allow the state to increase eligibility, waive copayments for families making less than 30 percent of the state median income, increase reimbursement rates, provide technical assistance to families applying for child care assistance, support employer-led child care programs, provide grants for start-up costs and shared services, and provide a child care benefit for state employees.
Kentucky’s governor allocated $50 million in one-time funding to address the ARPA child care cliff while a legislative solution can be crafted. Pennsylvania invested an additional $25 million in a sliding scale to reduce subsidy copayments.
Across the country, the child care crisis focused on the needs of the child care workforce, which has not recovered from the COVID pandemic. Child care providers were at the forefront of the crisis, and state and federal funds were used to increase salaries, provide personal protective equipment, support recruitment and retention, and provide health care and other benefits. As providers continue to struggle to recruit qualified staff and to compensate them appropriately, advocates have pushed state leaders to continue investments in the workforce through a variety of initiatives. At the federal level, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Early Childhood Development launched a national workforce technical assistance center to provide research and support to states as they develop workforce initiatives.
Fifty-three percent of states reported a win for the child care workforce. Among all states and D.C., 16 percent reported a relatively small increase, and 22 percent reported a relatively large increase in state funding devoted to the child care workforce. Most investments in the early childhood workforce went directly to compensation and benefits.
Connecticut allocated $70 million for Wage Supports for Early Educators, a one-time payment for bonus payments to providers. The grant program is one component of the improvements that Child Care for Connecticut’s Future, a coalition of parents and community groups, family- and center-based providers, early childhood councils, unions, businesses, philanthropy, and advocacy groups, requested from the Governor and state legislature as part of their long-term vision for transformation.
After years of work, advocates in Washington, DC, were able to work with the council to create the Early Childhood Educator Pay Equity Fund. In the first year of implementation, eligible early childhood educators can receive up to four payments of up to $3,500 each between October 2022 and September 2023. Starting in fall 2023, programs that opt into a new salary scale began to receive funding from the Pay Equity Fund to increase their employees’ salaries through their paychecks. In addition, advocates in the B-3 coalition won the creation of HealthCare4ChildCare, which will provide free or reduced health care plans to staff in child care centers and homes.
Illinois has invested over $100 million in Child Care Workforce Compensation Contracts that will provide increased compensation for child care providers as part of a new four-year initiative to increase access to high quality early childhood settings. The initiative also includes a pilot Early Childhood Apprenticeship that will include on the job training and lead to credentials and degrees.
Advocates in Kentucky worked with the state to address the recruitment and retention of child care providers and provide a significant benefit to those providers. The state has made child care staff (not just teachers) categorically eligible for child care subsidies. Like other states, they are also investing in ECE apprenticeship programs, including one for program administrators, to help early childhood educators advance their professional credentials while earning better wages.
In Massachusetts, the state invested general revenue funds to continue supports created during the COVID pandemic. The budget includes $475 million to fund the Commonwealth Care for Children (C3) Stabilization grants, which are paid directly to child care providers for recruitment and retention, professional development, facilities improvements, and other investments in quality. The effort to continue and fund the grants was part of statewide advocacy efforts, including those by Strategies for Children through their institutionalized 9:30 call and other efforts.
Minnesota was one of the first states to develop grants for providers during the COVID crisis, and has continued to demonstrate how a state can support the early childhood workforce. The state is making $160 million available in Great Start Workforce Support Payments. As with the earlier grant program, eligible providers will receive monthly payments to provide increased compensation and benefits for educators in child care programs.
A number of states enacted policies to remove barriers for home-based providers to operate effectively and serve their communities. Arkansas and Montana passed legislation that treats licensed family child care homes as residential properties, which exempts them from other regulations beyond those from the licensing system. New Oklahoma legislation prohibits municipal governments from enacting additional regulations on family child care homes that have already undergone the state’s licensing process. Oregon, Washington State, and the District of Columbia passed laws to prevent condo associations, homeowners association, or rental property owners from prohibiting licensed family child care providers from operating their businesses from their homes. Minnesota established a new grant program for Family, Friend, and Neighbor providers.
A bipartisan effort in Alabama, supported by the Alabama School Readiness Alliance’s business-led Pre-K Task Force, resulted in a $22.5 million investment in First Class Pre-K, the state pre-kindergarten program. The new funding will help add an additional 125 classrooms in the popular program, and increase access from 42 to 45 percent of Alabama’s four-year-olds.
Alaska supported expansion of pre-kindergarten through the Alaska Reads Act in June. The new law includes a small competitive grant program to develop pre-K programs in districts where none exist, or to expand and improve existing pre-K programs. This new investment is designed to provide resources to school districts that are not adequately served by Head Start and other high-quality childcare. School districts with the lowest performance will be prioritized in the grant selection process, and they will be eligible for three-year grants, with an option of a continuation year. Up to $3 million will be awarded to districts in year one, and amounts can increase by up to $3 million per year, with a sunset currently scheduled for ten years out. The goal is for the program to build over time.
Following a statewide survey of child care providers that showed families in Delaware have significant barriers to finding affordable, available child care, the state increased funding for state funded pre-kindergarten by $6.1 million and increased child care subsidy rates by 15 percent.
Michigan allocated $254.6 million to expand free pre-K for up to 5,600 kids, a downpayment on the state vision of creating Pre-K for All.
After an advocacy effort that included the Chamber of Commerce’s analysis of the cost to the state due to lack of child care, Missouri increased pre-kindergarten funding by $82 million and another $78.5 million for child care subsidies.
As part of a package of bills in support of early childhood, North Dakota removed the expiration date for the Best in Class grants that fund early childhood programs for four-year-old children. The Best in Class program was set to expire at the end of the 2023-25 biennium after originally passing during the 2021 session. A total of $14.4 million was allocated for evidence-based programs for four-year-old children, including $12 million to expand the Best in Class grants and $2.4 million to continue the Waterford Upstart program.
In Rhode Island, the state legislature allocated $8.3 million for expansion of state pre-kindergarten programs, including $6.7M to backfill expired federal funding for pre-kindergarten seats and an additional $1.6 to create new administrative capacity for expansion.
The child poverty rate hit a historic low in 2021, thanks in large part to federal pandemic-era programs such as the expanded child tax credit. Unfortunately, recently-released census data show that the decline in child poverty has since been completely reversed as federal supports have ended, skyrocketing from 5.2 percent in 2021 to 12.4 percent a year later. The child poverty rate is now higher than it was before the pandemic. Congress has not been able to agree on an extension of the expanded federal child tax credit and has debated adding more stringent work requirements to federal benefits programs like SNAP and TANF – a strategy that research has shown doesn’t increase work and earnings.
As federal policymakers falter, state advocates are stepping in – working with state policymakers to make significant strides. The percentage of Alliance grantees reporting that a family economic security policy was their number-one best opportunity for a major win for young children and families doubled over last year.*
And overall, 63 percent of states reported a positive 2023 state policy action on family economic security. That’s a 20-point increase over last year’s 43 percent.*
Additionally, 38 percent of states reported increases in state funding for family economic supports.* The state allies who could estimate their states’ increased funding for family economic supports reported a combined total of more than $2 billion in additional state funding going to families.*
States also played defense this year to protect families’ access to benefits. Nearly one in five states reported that efforts to reduce access to safety net programs were among the most urgent threats to young children this legislative session.*
States took action on a range of policies and programs designed to reduce poverty, including on state child tax credits and earned income tax credits, benefits like TANF and SNAP, food assistance, housing, and baby bonds. States also made advances on paid family leave policies. Alliance allies worked in coalition to implement bold and lasting change.
At least 15 states advanced state-level tax credits. Utah passed its first child tax credit for families with very young children; Oregon created the Oregon Kids Credit, a refundable tax credit for low-income families with young children; and Minnesota created a new child tax credit. Connecticut fell just short of extending their one-time pandemic-era child tax credit. New Jersey doubled the maximum child tax credit for low-income families with young children, and New Mexico increased their CTC as well. Vermont avoided an attempt to eliminate their new child tax credit and instead expanded eligibility to all state residents, regardless of citizenship status. New York expanded their child tax credit to include babies and toddlers, and Maryland broadened eligibility for their CTC by raising the income threshold. Maine made its dependent exemption tax credit refundable.
Hawai’i boosted their earned income tax credit as part of a larger tax credit package, and Maryland permanently extended and expanded their state EITC. Vermont expanded EITC eligibility to all state residents, regardless of citizenship status. Connecticut increased the refundable state EITC to a higher percentage of the federal credit, and Indiana recoupled its state EITC with the federal credit. A new law in Colorado requires employers to notify employees of availability of the federal and state earned income tax credits and child tax credits.
Other states are building momentum for tax credit improvements in the near future, including a new child tax credit study in Virginia and a new child tax credit proposal that nearly got over the line in Montana.
“State CTCs effectively invest in children and families through state tax codes, and paired with investments in other programs, like child care assistance for families, this strategy is a winning combination. It’s exciting to see multiple states promoting these opportunities to help reduce child poverty.”
Several states used the flexibility granted them in federal law to improve access to benefits for families. Connecticut increased the amount of time families can receive benefits, the asset limit, and the earned income disregard. New Mexico increased TANF cash assistance, and Indiana increased benefit amounts and raised the income eligibility levels for receiving TANF. Georgia and Indiana both passed bills allowing pregnant women who meet the income requirements to be eligible for TANF, and Georgia also passed increased benefits for women who give birth while on TANF assistance and repealed the program’s family cap.
Vermont passed legislation requiring a plan to raise TANF benefit levels to meet 100 percent of basic needs over five years, increasing funding for one-time expenses, and creating a pilot transition process to counteract the benefits cliff. Missouri also took steps to address the benefits cliff, providing families with transitional benefits for child care, SNAP, and TANF.
Arkansas improved SNAP benefits by raising the asset limit to the federal rate and allowing families who fall above the asset limit to stay enrolled for one year. West Virginia defeated bills that would have restricted access to SNAP benefits for families and reduced by half the number of weeks laid-off workers are eligible for unemployment benefits.
South Carolina improved access to a wide range of public benefits through its new First 5 portal, where families can access program information, assess their eligibility, and apply online for early childhood programs and services across health and safety, child care and early education, special needs and early intervention, food and nutrition, and parenting and family supports.
States also saw the need to improve families’ access to basic needs, like food. Vermont, New Mexico, and Massachusetts joined a small but growing group of states offering universal school meals. Nevada proposed similar legislation that didn’t quite make it across the finish line. Washington increased access to free school meals and North Dakota expanded eligibility for school meals for low-income students. North Dakota also passed a bill aimed at protecting students from being shamed or excluded from school meals or school events because of unpaid meal balances.
Hawai’i boosted the food/excise tax credit, and Alabama passed grocery tax reform that will reduce the grocery sales tax by half and also added funds to the state budget to increase food security at the local level.
Kansas defeated a bill that would have required low-income non-custodial parents to cooperate with child support to receive food assistance.
Housing is an area that saw increased action this year. Idaho passed legislation requiring reasonable fees for tenants and greater fee transparency from landlords. Vermont passed regulatory reforms to increase affordable housing.
New York more than doubled the child welfare housing subsidy, which is provided to families involved in the child welfare system and youth transitioning out. Nevada moved forward several housing stability bills that didn’t ultimately make it across the finish line. South Carolina codified statewide definitions of “unaccompanied homeless youth,” “homeless child or youth,” and “youth at risk of homelessness” in order to improve data collection on this vulnerable population.
Connecticut funded its baby bond law this year – every child born on Medicaid will have $3,200 deposited into an account that beneficiaries can use when they turn 18 for college or career education, or to purchase a house, start a business, or invest for retirement.
Paid Leave policies provide families with a safety net when individuals must take time away from their jobs to care for a new child or address their own serious illnesses or provide care for a loved one that is ill or injured. Increasingly, states are acknowledging that income replacement and job security during these major life events is a priority for their residents.
Nearly 40 percent of states reported a positive 2022-23 state policy action on Paid Family and Medical Leave. Furthermore, 29 percent of states reported increases in state funding for paid leave programs.
As of September 2023, 13 states and Washington, D.C. have enacted statewide paid family and medical leave legislation.
Minnesota and Maine are the newest additions to the group of 13 states with paid family and medical leave programs earlier this year.
In 2023, the Minnesota Legislature and Governor made paid leave a top policy priority and with bipartisan support passed and enacted the Paid Medical and Family Leave Act (PMFL Act), the most comprehensive and inclusive paid leave legislation in the country guaranteeing benefits to nearly all workers – including private sector, as well as state and local government employees. The new paid leave program also covers both full-time and part-time workers, and self-employed individuals are able to voluntarily opt-in. The MN PMFL Act also set up progressive wage replacement rates.
The Maine Paid Family and Medical Leave program will provide employees with 12 weeks of paid leave by 2026. The state invested $25 million to create the program that will be funded by a payroll contribution that will be evenly split between employees and employers.
States like Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Tennessee are also recognizing the importance of paid leave benefits and in 2023 established or expanded paid parental leave to state employees, including full-time public-school employees.
Six other states are poised to make major progress on paid leave legislation in the 2024 upcoming legislative sessions, as momentum builds in Michigan, New Mexico, Vermont, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.
Alliance allies are working with broad coalitions to improve family economic security policies and paid leave policies in their states.
Campaigns in Connecticut, New York and Minnesota exemplify the power of coalitions driving change.
In Connecticut, partners worked together to enact a raft of family economic security policy improvements, including baby bonds, increasing the state EITC, and TANF reform. Much of that work had been slowly built over years: cultivating legislative champions, advocating within state agencies and building a coalition of groups directly impacted. Partners started by eliminating a cap on family TANF benefits in 2021, and in the following years they worked to add improvements like lengthening the time period families were eligible for benefits; increasing benefits amounts, asset limits and the earned income disregard; and recalculating eligibility levels. Business concerns about ongoing labor shortages created a favorable environment and the voices of people directly impacted by benefit cliffs helped legislators understand the problem. A new coalition member, Mothers and Others for Justice, helped find an unlikely ally. They connected with a conservative senator at their “No More Crumbs” event where they brought slices of bread to the legislature to demand change. Stories of individuals finding work, only to lose the benefits that were keeping them above water, helped the senator understand TANF reform as a way to address the labor shortage that the business lobbyists kept pushing on.
New York has built a strong coalition that is aiming to end child poverty in the state. The campaign to pass the NY State Child Poverty Reduction Act at the end of 2021 was a coalition effort, organized by the Schuyler Center, an Alliance ally. Bipartisan and supported nearly unanimously, the Act challenges New York state to reduce child poverty by 50 percent in 11 years and established the NY State Child Poverty Reduction Advisory Council. The Schuyler Center and their partners have since continued to push for family economic support policies, using a combination of strategies like coordinated communications and a powerful and diverse coalition with a deep bench of experts and lots of ways to engage. The coalition achieved several wins this legislative session, including improvements to the child tax credit, child care assistance, and housing, and they launched New York Can End Child Poverty, an online hub for data, resources, and research on poverty-fighting policies, designed to support the work of advocates, policymakers, journalists, state leaders, and others. Kate Breslin, Schuyler Center President & CEO, said “while each of these actions represents progress, we still have a long way to go. The door to the New York dream should be wide open for every New Yorker, regardless of zip code or income or race.”
State allies in Minnesota worked alongside the Minnesotans for Paid Family and Medical Leave coalition to bring about the historic passage of paid family and medical leave in Minnesota. The coalition, co-chaired by Children’s Defense Fund-Minnesota, ISAIAH, and the Minnesota AFL-CIO, was a collection of more than 70 organizations representing health, faith, business, labor, and community groups. Each organization in the coalition brought their particular lens to the movement for paid leave, underscoring the benefits to their respective constituencies and ensuring the legislation outlining the new program was inclusive of their specific population’s needs. For example, the Minnesota Prenatal to Three Coalition lent its expertise in early developmental outcomes for children and families to advance paid leave policy. Their focused contributions to the larger paid leave coalition highlighted how increasing access to paid family and medical leave is proven to increase rates of breastfeeding, improve maternal physical and mental health, increase family economic stability and improve health and access to health care for babies.
Alliance national allies supported states in their work to improve family economic security policies this legislative session.
The National Center for Children in Poverty updated their Early Childhood State Policy Profiles, which provide a state-by-state, two-generation view of current policies affecting children birth to age 8, including family economic supports.
The National Women’s Law Center developed talking points around prioritizing women and children in budgets.
Child Trends released a new brief—which complemented their seminal 2022 report on child poverty—exploring how policymakers and practitioners can support young children living in poverty when designing and implementing anti-poverty efforts. They also started a new quarterly poverty newsletter–you can sign up here.
ZERO TO THREE conducted polling showing that parents support the child tax credit.
CLASP also released a report on state asset limit policies.
The Alliance updated our inventory of state policy levers that impact family economic security – from TANF and taxes to hunger and housing. It includes state examples and follow-up resources where available.
As advocates work with policymakers each budget cycle to achieve increases in appropriations for early childhood, many are also pursuing longer-term strategies to establish new funding sources that are earmarked for these supports. Establishing a revenue stream that exists outside of yearly budget debates provides a dependable source of funding—which can stabilize programs, permanently expand access, or lay the groundwork for even bigger gains.
In recent years, for example, Washington passed a seven-percent tax on profits from large sales of stocks and bonds that is raising hundreds of millions of dollars for crucial early childhood programs. And in New Mexico, voters have passed a constitutional amendment that mandates a yearly Land Grant Permanent Fund distribution for early childhood education. Wins like these take years of cooperation and dedication, and—in 2023—several states saw their hard work pay off.
In 2023, Vermont’s Let’s Grow Kids campaign celebrated a significant win with a new payroll tax dedicated to early childhood. The 0.44 percent payroll tax (split between employers and employees) will generate $80 million annually and, combined with $50 million of general revenue, will fund a dramatic expansion of eligibility for subsidized child care along with increased reimbursement rates and supports for the child care workforce.
In Colorado, voters went back to the ballot box to approve a measure allowing the state to spend excess revenues on preschool from a dedicated tax on nicotine products. This nicotine tax increase, passed by a ballot measure in 2020, is earmarked for a free, voluntary universal preschool program. Retaining the additional revenue will allow Colorado to provide universal preschool services and extend additional preschool programming to more children, especially those with qualifying factors who need it most.
A ballot measure in Texas passed in every county, and statewide by a margin of 65 to 35, allowing local governments to reduce or eliminate property taxes on facilities used to provide child care.
In Alaska, voters in the city of Anchorage (where a large portion of the state’s children live) approved earmarking the five percent sales tax on marijuana exclusively to child care and early education, rather than sending it into the city’s general fund.
Oregon used lottery bonds (along with some general funds and federal funds) to create a new $55 million child care infrastructure fund designed to expand child care and preschool facilities across Oregon.
Kentucky used lottery proceeds to increase state funding for kindergarten through third grade. Ohio used tax revenue from casinos.
Also in 2023, Children’s Funding Project launched its state early childhood fiscal mapping project with full searchable fiscal maps for the first cohort of 14 states. The resource helps advocates and policymakers see which funding streams are being applied toward which early childhood programs, services, and outcomes.
We are in a unique time for policy advocacy, and there are several headwinds—and tailwinds—that will shape the landscape in the coming year.
Political polarization continues to threaten early childhood and family policies that have been non-partisan in the past, but maternal health is becoming less polarizing.
In our survey of advocates, 27 states (53 percent) reported that the past year saw the advancement of bills, executive orders, or ballot measures that represents an “urgent threat” to the state’s young children. The leading issue was attempts to erode social emotional development standards, which was reported in 12 states. Ten states reported efforts to “undermine curricular content of pre-k to 3rd grade education.” Both of these numbers represent an increase over last year’s report.
The Supreme Court’s reversal on Roe v Wade and the ensuing wave of abortion bans heightened polarization on that topic. But the ruling also changed the landscape on the debate of other issues. With abortion eliminated as a sticking point, advocates and policymakers in Texas were able to agree on 12-month postpartum Medicaid coverage. The same is true in Kansas, Ohio, and Mississippi, where the new landscape influenced policymakers to change their positions on 12-month postpartum coverage.
This year we saw a surge in states taking the option to extended Medicaid coverage to 12 months postpartum. In fact, there are only four states left to do this since it became an option for federal matching funding in April of 2022. In addition, Rhode Island now allows eligible pregnant people to begin receiving cash assistance at the onset of a pregnancy, rather than waiting until the third trimester. And Georgia eliminated the five-year waiting period to receive Medicaid for eligible children and pregnant people who are legal permanent residents.
The end of federal relief dollars from pandemic-era rescue funding is a fork in the road for many states.
For most states, income from general revenues remained strong during the pandemic, and when combined with federal funds for COVID relief, led to significant budget surpluses. As this report shows, many states made bold investment in the early years, and several established dedicated funding streams. The end of the pandemic funding and any cooling in the economy will test state commitment to prioritizing young children in the budget negotiations. Will they sustain their investments in young children?
As the successful federal child tax credit was allowed to expire, states are stepping in to preserve those gains. At least 15 states advanced state-level tax credits. Utah, Oregon, and Minnesota passed new credits and Connecticut came close. New Jersey, New Mexico increased theirs. And several states expanded eligibility: New York now includes babies and toddlers, Maryland raised the income threshold, and Vermont expanded eligibility to all state residents, regardless of citizenship status.
As child care stabilization funds end, Massachusetts invested $475 million in state funds to avoid a funding cliff. Alabama and Alaska made historic increases in general revenue funds, and North Dakota for the first time allocated state funds for child care.
Coalitions will be increasingly effective tools for elevating issues and centering equity.
In our survey of advocates, 45 states (88 percent) now report involvement in coalitions. The largest number of coalitions reported work on child care, with other leading issues including pre-k, family economic supports, and maternal and child health.
Authentic coalition participation played a major role in 2023 wins in Minnesota, where multiple, long-standing coalitions linked arms to create a “coalition of coalitions” who embraced a theory of abundance in their success across a variety of issue areas, including a new child tax credit, $1.3 billion over four years for expansion of mixed-delivery child care, continuous Medicaid coverage for young children up to age 6, and a new statewide paid family and medical leave program of up to 20 weeks. The same was true in Connecticut, where partners worked together to enact a slate of family economic security wins, including baby bonds, increasing the state EITC, and TANF reform.
While these powerful coalitions are typically grown (and trust built) slowly over time, once established, they represent a substantial tailwind for advocacy in a state. The Alliance continues to support and learn from the six Child Care NEXT states that represent broad, diverse coalitions working to transform child care, and will continue to refine the seven milestones for collective power that make them effective.
The policy analysis in the Alliance for Early Success’ 50-State Early Childhood Policy Progress and Landscape Report was prepared by the Alliance policy team, with special thanks to Frontera Strategy for conducting the 50-state survey.
Mandy Ableidinger, Senior Policy Director
Mimi Aledo-Sandoval, Senior Policy Director
Jacy Montoya-Price, Senior Director, Advocacy and Issue Campaigns
Albert Wat, Senior Policy Director
Danielle Ewen, Consultant
Helene Stebbins, Executive Director
Individual state early childhood policy landscape pages were compiled by Alliance staff from the sources credited on each page.
The 50-state landscape survey was completed by Frontera Strategy, a partner that supports advocacy efforts by providing qualitative and quantitative research services, including needs assessments and environmental scans, program and policy evaluation, statistical analyses, and survey research for associations, foundations, and nonprofit service organizations active in state capitols.
Lisa Kerber, PhD
Advocates working in all states and the District of Columbia completed the survey, and all 51 are represented in the data. Frontera would like to thank Amber Wallin (New Mexico Voices for Children) and John Wilson (Kansas Action for Children) for participating in the cognitive interviews and offering feedback on survey questions.
This report was edited by Stinson Liles, Director of Communications, Alliance for Early Success.
The state pages and the report are not meant to be comprehensive. Both rely on reporting from state advocates, who may be unaware of particular policies or events.
Suggested Citation: Alliance for Early Success (2023), 50-State Early Childhood Policy Progress and Landscape Report 2023.
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© 2023 Alliance for Early Success