EXCERPT FROM: New America Foundation (Blog)
By Clare McCann
The quality and safety of child care was a key topic at a hearing held yesterday on Capitol Hill. A subcommittee in the U.S. Senate heard testimony on the need to update the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG), a federal law overdue for reauthorization that provides funding to states to subsidize child care costs for low-income families. Advocacy groups for children and working parents have pressed for the next iteration of the law to focus on improving families’ access to quality programs.
The hearing was convened by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), chair of the Subcommittee on Children and Families in the Senate’s Health, Labor, Education and Pensions (HELP) Committee. It was the second time this year that the committee had gathered to discuss the topic; a meeting in June also pushed for the need to make changes to the law. Although yesterday’s hearing was sparsely attended (Sen. Mikulski explained the absence of all but four senators, saying the president’s anticipated address to Congress last night meant the members were busy during the day), the witnesses offered insights from diverse professional backgrounds in early education.
“Quality varies widely in this diverse industry,” said Eric Karolak, executive director of the Early Care and Education Consortium, who was one of the witnesses, “and too often care bought with public subsidies is of lower quality than it should be.”
Defining and measuring quality will likely be a key component of making upgrades to the current law. At the moment, quality is enforced through agency inspections. Charlotte Brantley, President and CEO of Clayton Early Learning in Denver, Colorado offered an anecdote about her own facility: Much to Sen. Mikulski’s apparent surprise, the facility is “inspected by funding stream.” In essence, each agency that funds a portion of the program (including Head Start, Early Head Start, the Colorado Preschool Program, CCDBG, and nutrition funding agencies, in this case) inspects separately and looks for evidence of compliance with the standards that have been set by each funding stream. A streamlined approach, Ms. Brantley suggested, would be more cost-effective, and for facilities already identified as high-quality, could save time by reducing the number of inspections required each year.
In order to identify those high-quality programs, though, a quality rating system is essential, according to several witnesses. Dr. Donna Bryant, a Senior Scientist at the UNC Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute, cited studies that show that, while high-quality programs provide a substantial advantage in learning ability, low-quality programs have no impact whatsoever. Bryant said that Quality Rating and improvement Systems, a key element of the new Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge, can provide incentives to encourage programs to make substantive changes.