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State Advocates Release Principles for Investments in a Stronger and More Equitable Birth-to-Five Early Childhood System

Early childhood advocates from across the country — representing a diversity of states — have come together to recommend nine consensus principles for investing in early care and education.

Across the country, local, state, and national leaders are weighing policy shifts to better serve children and families in the child care system. Based on research showing that high quality early experiences have significant benefits for children from birth through their entry into school, reforms to the child care system are designed to address affordability, raise quality, increase coordination between child care, health care, education, and other systems, improve access by building supply, and ensure all providers, regardless of setting and program design, are fairly compensated for the skilled and valuable work they do.

These principles were developed to guide leaders at every level as they determine whether and how to invest new funding in the child care system. These approaches to policy are designed to help create one mixed delivery system of care that is equitable and inclusive of all providers including family child care, public and private child care centers, Head Start, and public schools; that centers family choice and preferences while ensuring access to quality for all families, regardless of geography, income, or children’s ages; that is designed to create supply that can meet the demand for all families; and that is responsive to the needs and values of the community.

System Design Principles:

  • Child care is affordable. Families living at or below the poverty line pay no fees, and no family pays more than 7 percent of their income, regardless of setting or age of children. To make this real, families need access to subsidies and tax credits.
  • Payments support the real cost of care. Providers receive direct supports to ensure the full cost of providing high quality care is covered, and every family has access to high quality care regardless of what they are able to pay.
  • System reform policies are centered in equity. An equity lens is used throughout all aspects of the reform process. In addition, all families are included in available financial supports, with additional resources targeted to communities that have been traditionally underserved.
  • Providers have access to professional pathways. Higher education and certification are available to all providers, in a variety of settings and languages. Pathways include clear articulation of competencies and expectations. Financial and other supports are available to ensure providers can access the pathway that best meets their needs.
  • All providers earn a livable wage and benefits, with comparable compensation for those with comparable qualifications, experience, and job responsibilities, regardless of setting or age of children served. Benefits include health insurance, retirement, and paid leave.
  • Child care is available and accessible in all communities. Supply building, through expansion of existing spaces, grants and loans to family child care providers to create and improve home-based care, and supports for new facilities, is at the core of system design. Plans to increase supply should be developed with intentionality to address specific community needs and preferences. Innovative approaches, including shared services approaches, family child care networks, Head Start-Child Care partnerships, and public-private partnerships are supported through public funds.
  • All children, regardless of age or type of setting, have access to quality care. All programs, regardless of the ages of children served, are supported to meet quality standards around ratios, group size, degrees and credentials, indoor and outdoor play space, and other evidence based standards that reflect and are responsive to a range of languages, cultures and values.
  • Families are eligible for help paying for child care based solely on income. All families at or below 150 percent of State Median Income (SMI) are eligible for help paying for child care. Families at higher incomes can receive tax credits or other supports.
  • Access to child care assistance is simple. States have the staff capacity and resources needed to create simple access to assistance, including application processes that are easy to understand and navigate.

For these principles to become reality, Congress and state legislatures will have to see child care as a public good that requires adequate public financing to support a comprehensive system of education and care that meets the needs not just of children, families, and providers, but also of the communities in which they live.

Image of a pre-school class.
PHOTO: Allison Shelley for EDU Images

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