By Stefanie Marshall
Last month during the State of the Union Address, President Obama stated that childcare should no longer be viewed as an issue exclusive to women; rather it should be a “national economic priority,” and called for “universal childcare.”
According to Obama, a changing economy coupled with an increasing number of women in the work force, causes an increased need to provide access to childcare for all families. President Obama has proposed to dramatically transform early childhood policies. The budget for the next fiscal year, for example, helps provide affordable childcare by offering tax credits to working families.
Across the country, available day care seats cannot keep up with current demand, causing many parents to be added to waiting lists that may never lead to a placement. According to administration officials, enrollment would increase from 1.6 million to 2.6 million, “reaching that goal would mean child care was available to all families with a household income of less than 200 percent of the poverty line, or roughly $40,000 a year for a family of three.”
The Plan Revealed
While at the University of Kansas last month, President Obama pledged to increase the investment in early childhood by $80 Billion over the next 10 years. The plan will essentially triple the childcare tax credit, increasing the current tax break to $3,000 per child. This program will also expand Head Start, discussed in further detail below, to be a full-day program, and the duration of Head Start will be an entire academic school year. In addition to these modifications to Head Start, the number of students covered for Head Start services will increase to 2.6 million by 2025, double the current number of children covered
Is it really “Universal Childcare”?
Some argue that the idea of “universal childcare” is “misleading,” because this terminology could be interpreted as daycare being provided for all children. Instead, the budget details specific tax breaks and initiatives for low and middle-income families. President Obama characterized this initiative in terms of middle-class economics, “helping working families feel more secure in a world of constant change.”
The Two Key Programs
There are two key programs concerning Early Childhood in the Fiscal Year 2016 budget: Preschool for All and Head Start.
This proposal ensures that a Federal- State partnership will support all four-year-olds in the country in having access to high-quality preschool. This proposal will be funded through an increase in tobacco taxes, increasing the 2015 budget of $250 million to $750 million. Also, $907 million would be allotted to early intervention for children with disabilities, $15 million of which would target early identification of developmental delays in order to support improved developmental outcomes.
The purpose of Head Start is to promote school readiness, which is defined as, “families ready to support their children’s learning, and schools ready for the children who enter their doors,” for children from birth to 5 years-old from low-income homes. Head Start provides programs that supports health, nutrition, and social services, amongst other things. The 2016 budget includes an increase of $1.5 billion and, as with Preschool For All, will also be sponsored through an increase in tobacco taxes. This money will be utilized to provide full day programming for the academic school year. Services will also expand in various ways – specifically expanding voluntary home visiting programs, which allow nurses, social workers, and other professionals to work with current and expecting parents to intervene if health or development issues are found.
Given the need for enhanced early childhood programming, there has been strong bipartisan support, however there is some pushback from conservatives who argue that this proposal does not support stay-at-home parents. Although the proposal, as written may not pass as is, there are attractive components for both Democrats and Republicans. Nonetheless, and important conversation has begun, to improve the quality of early childhood programming.
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