United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) today unveiled a proposal outlining the Universal Child Care and Early Learning Act, a comprehensive plan to provide millions of families with free, high-quality child care and early learning options and to ensure that every family in the country can affordably access these services.
Over the past generation, wages have effectively remained flat while the cost of child care has skyrocketed. In nearly half of all states in America, infant child care costs are higher than the cost of in-state public college tuition. Meanwhile, low-income families spend almost a fifth of their entire income on child care, and only a third of families are able to send their children to child care centers or home-based day care sites at all.
This lack of access to high-quality, affordable care prevents parents from fully participating in the workforce, holding them back from career and educational opportunities and placing a drag on our entire economy. Lack of affordable, high-quality care also means many children in the U.S. start kindergarten without the skills they need to reach their full potential.
"In the wealthiest nation in the history of the world, high-quality child care should be a right for all of our children and not just a privilege that only the wealthiest families can afford," said Senator Warren. "We need a government that invests in our children because they are our future and that is what the Universal Child Care and Early Learning Act will do."
This proposal would fund a system of locally-run, affordable, and high-quality child care programs inspired by the bipartisan Comprehensive Child Development Bill of 1971, which was vetoed by President Nixon. Senator Warren's proposal builds on the successes of both the federal Head Start program and the U.S. Department of Defense military child care program.
The Universal Child Care and Early Learning Act would:
* Ensure universal access: This plan would provide federal funding to establish and support a locally-run network of Child Care and Early Learning Centers and Family Child Care Homes so that every family, regardless of their income or employment, has high-quality, affordable child care options for their children from birth to school entry.
* Guarantee affordability: Families below 200% of the federal poverty line (about $51,200 for a family of four) could access these child care options at zero cost. According to an independent analysis by Moody's Analytics Chief Economist Mark Zandi and Sophia Koropeckyj, 8.8 million kids would have free access to child care and early learning options through the program. Families with higher incomes would pay a subsidized fee based on their income, similar to the military child care program. No family would pay more than 7% of their income for these public child care options.
* Provide high-quality, essential development services: The Centers and Family Child Care Homes would meet high-quality standards based on current U.S. military child care and Head Start program standards. Providers would receive support and time to meet new requirements, which would focus on early learning and social-emotional development.
* Be locally-administered and federally-supported: As originally envisioned in the Comprehensive Child Development Act of 1971, the federal government would partner with sponsors - states, counties, cities, school districts, tribal organizations, or other nonprofit community entities - to administer the program in a way that prioritizes local community needs and coheres early childhood systems.
* "Substantially increase the number of children able to receive formal child care," according to Zandi and Koropeckyj. It is estimated that 12 million children will access this high-quality option, up from about 6.8 million children who receive formal child care today.
Senator Warren's proposed federal investment in universal child care and early learning would cost $700 billion over 10 years, according to Zandi and Koropeckyj, and could be funded with approximately a quarter of the revenue raised from Senator Warren's proposed Ultra-Millionaire Tax. "The Universal Child Care and Early Learning Act is thus deficit neutral over the 10-year budget horizon on a dynamic basis," said Zandi and Koropeckyj.
"Coalition for Social Justice is pleased to hear that Senator Warren will be prioritizing early education and care for all. It's a vital policy that will support parents, aide in the healthy development of children and help boost our economy." -- Deb Fastino, Coalition for Social Justice
"On behalf of All Our Kin, I am thrilled by Senator Warren's bold vision for a universal child care system that works for children, families, and educators. Senator Warren's proposed bill recognizes and responds to the critical importance of children's development in the earliest years; meets the needs of today's working families; and gives parents the power to make meaningful choices about how and where their children are cared for. For two decades, All Our Kin has worked to increase the supply, quality, and sustainability of community-based child care programs, and we have seen first-hand the difference that quality care for children ages 0-5 makes in the lives of children and families. This is an investment too long overdue, and I celebrate this proposed step forward." -- Jessica Sager, All Our Kin
"Ask any parents about their financial worries, and they are certain to put the rising cost of child care high on their list. Parents are caught in a bind--they need to work to support their kids, but more and more of their paychecks are going to child care. That's money families could be spending directly on their children or saving for college. And the astronomical cost of child care is keeping more and more parents, especially mothers, out of the workforce. In fact, child care is more expensive than the cost of college tuition in 28 states. This is bad for children, bad for families and bad for our economy. Sen. Warren knows what it's like to balance work and child care--she's been in the same situation as millions of parents. Sen. Warren's Universal Child Care Act would put us on a path to guaranteeing that every family in America has access to high-quality, affordable child care options the same way that every family has access to a neighborhood public school. And it would ensure child care workers have a voice to advocate for their profession and for what kids need, and to earn wages that enable them to support their own families." - Randi Weingarten, American Federation of Teachers
"Research shows that effective, affordable early care and education has beneficial multi-generation effects, helping parents enter the workforce, gain critical skills and be self-sufficient while providing their children the early developmental resources they need to succeed in school and life. Access to these resources supports families and the future of our families, workforce and country." -- James Heckman, a Nobel Laureate economist who has extensively studied the returns on public investments in high-quality early childhood education
"This proposal represents an extraordinary vision for meeting our nation's neglected early learning and child care needs. It would create and improve hundreds of thousands of jobs and would reduce persistent racial and gender inequality holding back millions of adults and children alike. An ambitious plan like this would help secure our nation's economic future and should be core to a new social contract with families and communities." -- Indivar Dutta-Gupta, Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality
"This proposal is a thoughtful, ambitious attempt to deal with two problems plaguing the child care market: the high cost of care experienced by many families and the low quality of services offered by many child care providers. By creating a system of publicly supported child care--in which generous financial assistance is offered in tandem with strong quality standards--this plan effectively places the dual policy goals of cost reduction and quality improvement on equal footing. As a result, it will enable more parents to enter the labor force while improving children's school readiness." -- Chris Herbst, Arizona State University School of Public Affairs
"Rigorous research makes clear that investments in children are of key importance to promoting economic and educational opportunity. Such investments also improve physical and mental health for our next generation. As a new parent returning to work, I know firsthand the importance of quality, affordable childcare. Expanding access to such programs, and improving wages for and skills of child care workers, is a smart policy solution to ensure every child and family has the high-quality early care and education necessary for success." -- Alison Baulos, Center for the Economics of Human Development at The University of Chicago
"Much of our social policy in the realm of early childcare still relies on an outdated model of marriage and family--two income earners with dad going to work all day and mom staying home. Whether we like it or not, this is not reality. The bulk of childcare duties rests on mothers who must stop their education and career advancement to care for children. We are losing a lot of talent this way. In the alternative, so much lifetime development happens during the ages of 0-5 and many children are falling through the cracks. This is especially true for many LMI communities, especially black and brown communities that have inadequate early childhood services. This bill will be a boon for those communities... It will allow mothers and fathers who want to work and go to school to do so and it will provide a safe and nourishing environment for the future. This is the most important issue we can be focusing on right now in the realm of gender equality." -- Mehrsa Baradaran, Author of The Color of Money.
In October 2017, Senator Warren delivered a speech at the National Women's Law Center in which she spoke about her experiences as a mother juggling school, work, and raising her two young children, and about the urgent need for government to help lower the cost of child care and truly invest in America's children.