States spending generous on early education

States spending generous on early education

(D.C.) Thirty-two governors and the mayor of Washington, D.C., have proposed more than $2.9 billion in new funding for child care, preschool and home visiting programs, according to a new report.

Researchers at the Center for American Progress said the findings show there is significant support for improving and expanding early learning programs, which can in turn benefit children and their families in the long run.

“In making this funding a priority, governors are sending a loud and clear message to state legislatures and Congress that the days of underfunding early childhood programs need to end,” Simon Workman, director of Early Childhood Policy at the Center for American Progress, said in a statement. “Adequately funding these programs is critical to help families afford child care expenses, keep parents in the workforce, and ensure providers are paid livable wages.”

Studies have shown that participation in high-quality early learning programs can improve children’s academic and social-emotional outcomes, increase graduation rates, and boost the likelihood that they will earn a college degree.

According to the Center for American Progress, many parents spend a considerable portion of their paycheck on child care, which can amount to more than $10,000 per year for just one child. Policies that defray child care costs can boost employment and economic growth.

For instance, the universal pre-K program started in 2009 in Washington, D.C. spurred a 10 percentage point increase in its maternal labor force participation rate. If a similar large-scale federal child care investment was made, researchers estimated it would create 700,000 new early educator jobs and allow 1.6 million mothers to rejoin the workforce.

Researchers analyzed the latest budget proposals of governors from 49 states—as well as the mayor of Washington, D.C.—and found a combined $2.9 billion in new funding proposed for child care, preschool and home visiting programs. That number, they wrote, is almost one-third of federal yearly spending on Head Start, and more than seven times that of the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting program.

California had the highest total increase in funding for early learning programs, with large spending increases to expand subsidized child care facilities and support the child care workforce, provide statewide full-day kindergarten, and expand home visiting programs, among other things.

Both Ohio and Washington also made significant investments in home visiting programs, which authors of the report said have demonstrated improved infant and maternal health outcomes, but are only available to a small fraction of families.

Oregon and Vermont, meanwhile, were highlighted as two of the only states that targeted new state funding specifically to infant and toddler child care.

Although preschool programs received the bulk of funding increases, researchers noted that more states should consider boosting other early care and education options as well.

“While pre-K is a worthy investment, infant and toddler child care is more expensive, harder to find, and often needed by parents who are stretched thin on time and money,” authors wrote.

Though the budget proposals analyzed for the study must still go through approval and negotiation processes with state legislatures, researchers said that they represent a positive first step toward implementing programs that will benefit children and families.

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