When Opportunity Knocks: How to Use Build Back Better Funding to Establish ECE As a Public Good
As Congress comes closer to passing the Build Back Better Act, states have an unparalleled opportunity to build infrastructure that establishes child care as a public good, supporting the well-being of all children and families and society as a whole.
This summer, Bank Street convened a group of one dozen early childhood policy experts to explore how to establish accessible, equitable child care for all children from birth to age five. What follows are five design principles developed by this collective to guide states and policymakers as they determine how to use an estimated $400 billion in new funding to drive truly transformative change.
1. Update and Expand the Value Proposition
Early care and education has far-reaching benefits for society. To create buy-in for new ways of operating, states and advocates must boldly and routinely communicate the widespread benefits of increased investments in child care. The pandemic has begun to make these benefits more evident to an expanding group of stakeholders, including businesses. Consistent, clear messaging to all stakeholders — government, businesses, families, and communities — can help reinforce and confirm an essential truth: most American families need access to flexible and affordable care, which has ripple effects for their loved ones, their colleagues, and their employers.
2. Invest In and Plan for the Long-Term
Now is the time to embrace a risk-taking mindset. Historically, leaders fell into a pattern of incremental change after years of political polarization and gridlock at the federal level. The Build Back Better Act offers the chance to think boldly about what kind of change is possible for child care. The creation of new policies and programs must be guided by a long-term vision for a robust early care and education system and new resources should be applied toward policies or programs that move towards that vision.
3. Design for Anti-Racism
Rather than expanding access to programs that perpetuate the inequities in our current system, programs and policies must build from the strengths and needs of all families and teachers.
Compensation reform is one key way to end the racism embedded in the current system. Early childhood teachers, the majority of whom are Black and Brown women, do the crucial work of caring for and educating children at a time of rapid brain development, yet they are some of the lowest paid workers in the country. This is a rare, significant opportunity to move forward a compensation reform agenda. Simultaneously, states and localities should establish pathways to meaningful credentials and degrees. This will increase quality care and importantly paves the way for elevating compensation to the level earned by elementary school teachers.
4. Commit to Quality
Creating high-quality early childhood programs is complex work, and policymakers must prioritize it in order to ensure responsive, nurturing early care and education for all children. Expanding programs without equal attention to improving quality will both continue to undermine the needs of children and families and feed into narratives that reinforce child care as “babysitting” and perpetuate disinvestment in child care. Policymakers must resist the temptation of political expediency to spread resources too thin, leaving out critical investments such as high-quality professional development and increased compensation.
5. Partner with Educators, Families, and Communities Throughout Policy Design and Implementation
State and local governments must establish authentic ways for families and teachers to continuously engage in policy creation, system design, and implementation. This means more than simply gathering input through surveys. Policymakers can look to examples such as Head Start Policy Councils, which give parents a leadership role and allow them to decide how programs spend money or partner with other community organizations. Policies developed with a deep understanding of the lived experiences of children, families, and educators will lead to stronger outcomes.
This is our moment to reimagine our child care system. Strong guiding principles, such as those enumerated above, can help crystalize a larger vision and ensure that meaningful and equitable change is made. Read more details about the design principles for establishing ECE as a public good — and the impact they can have — in Bank Street’s recently published brief, Establishing Early Care and Education As A Public Good.
By Brandy Jones Lawrence, Senior Director of Policy & Partnerships, Learning Starts at Birth, Bank Street College of Education, Annie Schaeffing, Director of Strategic Initiatives, Bank Street Education Center, and Emily Sharrock, Associate Vice President, Bank Street Education Center.