I recently posted an item – Rethink Public Financing of Early Education and Care – that looked at funding the education and care of young children in this country. Another report, this one from the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) at Rutgers University, also offers an analysis of funding and makes recommendations for increasing funding and coordination of public dollars designated for early education and care. As I noted in the earlier blog post, the financing of early education and care in this country is a complex mix of private and public dollars, with much of it coming from high fees for parents and low pay for early educators – and much of it built as a service working parents, not a birthright for young children.
The NIEER policy brief – “Improving Public Financing for Early Learning Programs” – describes a “patchwork of funding streams and programs” and makes recommendations for improving the public financing of early education and care.
“It should go without saying that developing more reliable, well-considered revenue streams for early learning programs is a good thing,” the report concludes. “They not only maintain enrollment and program quality, they also provide the predictability that is essential to ensuring continuous improvement and a high level of program effectiveness. The lack of cohesive system-building that has typified the expansion of early childhood education in the United States has perpetuated the patchwork of preschool policies and finance mechanisms at all levels. This likely resulted in fewer children served that had a more systemic approach been used. And, it has delayed the collaboration and adaptation of successful approaches across programs that can lead to enhanced program effectiveness.”
Included among NIEER’s recommendations are these:
- “Early childhood finance reform should be pursued as part of a broader set of policies to increase collaboration and coordination across agencies for children, birth to 8, so as to improve program effectiveness.”
- “Develop new and more reliable funding streams for early learning programs that increase the total amount of public funding available and, at the very least, produce full coverage of disadvantaged children.”
- “Tie federal and state subsidies for child care to quality.”
- “Increase the use of federal Title I funds for quality preschool programs by requiring school districts to spend these funds on programs demonstrated to be effective.”
- “States that do not fund early education through their school funding formula should work toward that goal or develop other dedicated funding mechanisms that are more stable than annual discretionary appropriations from general revenue.”
Massachusetts is making some progress. For instance, the state’s Department of Early Education and Care is working to ensure that public dollars flow only to programs that meet certain quality standards.
NIERR also offers a primer on the various funding sources for early education and care:
- Direct child care subsidies. “The federal government administers two large child care funding streams through the Department of Health and Human Services…: the Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF) and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF). CCDF focuses on working families who earn less than 85% of the median income in the state where they reside. TANF serves needy families as they are defined at the state level.”
- Head Start. “The nation’s oldest large scale public preschool program, Head Start, dates back to the 1960s. Administered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, it serves preschoolers from low-income families with a comprehensive child development approach that includes preschool education and health, nutritional, and social services. Funding for Head Start programs goes directly from the federal government to service providers.” (Since the publication of the NIEER report, the federal government has begun converting Head Start grants to five-year grants, with performance evaluated every five years to determine if the program must compete for continued funding. Click here to read more.)
- Title I. “Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA, also known as No Child Left Behind) provides funds that can be used to provide early childhood education so that disadvantaged children have a greater opportunity to obtain a high-quality education. Administerd by the U.S. Department of Education, Title I funds through ESEA can be used to offer an extensive range of educational services to children not only in grades K-12, but also from birth to age 5.”
- Early childhood special education. “The Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) provides federal funding for services to young children with disabilities. IDEA, Part B, provides states with funds for children with disabilities, ages 3 to 5…. IDEA, Part C, provides states with funds to serve infants and toddlers (up to age 3) with developmental delays or conditions that have a high risk of developmental delay.”
- Local pre-kindergarten initiatives. “Local districts often provide pre-k in the public schools or fund private providers to serve preschoolers.”
- State-funded prekindergarten. A number of states fund statewide pre-kindergarten programs. Massachusetts, which is focused on increasing quality throughout the mixed delivery system of public and private providers, is not among them.
- Child care tax credits. “The Dependent Care Assistance Program (DCAP) and the Child Care and Dependent Care Tax Credit (CDCTC) are federal programs that enable parents to pay for child care and early education with pre-tax earnings.”
The bottom line is that high-quality early education and care is good for children, good for families and good for society as a whole. “Increased public investment in early learning,” the NIEER policy brief states, “is a pro-growth strategy not inconsistent with greater fiscal restraint.”