How much do you know about the Birth Through Five Child Care and Early Learning Entitlement, which is within the Build Back Better (BBB) bill? The news has been full of it, from the struggle over deciding what will be in it, how much it will cost, and whether it will be paid for—with recent headlines focused on paid leave. This bill is historic. It’s meaningful. It makes good on President Biden’s promises to the people: To invest in American families and families, as well as safeguard our future through important climate protection.
Significantly, the bill includes support for our youngest Americans. It includes infrastructure and funding for quality, accessible and affordable child care and universal preschool for 3- and 4-year olds.
Below are some of the most important highlights that you should know about the bill’s improvements to child care and universal Pre-K. These elements of the BBB have the potential to improve life for you, your children, child care professionals, our workforce and our collective future.
By: Amanda M. McDougald Scott, MS, PhD
Child care support for both families and caregivers
Quality, affordable, accessible child care is necessary for all of us to be able to accomplish daily tasks. Here are the improvements the bill is making to child care:
- Overall quality improvement of child care: Quality varies not only between care centers and types of care (nanny, family home, center), but also between states. Therefore, the BBB requires each state (that decides to opt in) to provide and receive approval for a plan for how they will improve quality, access and affordability of child care for families. Additional support will be provided to ensure that all types of caregiving can attain a higher tier of quality.
- Increasing child care professionals’ wages: I have previously written about the high cost of child care, although the wages for child care professionals remain extremely low. Living wages are important, which is why the BBB provides that child care providers will be at least set to a living wage AND equivalent to similarly-credentialed elementary educators in that state. These wages must be reviewed annually to adjust for potential cost of living increases.
- Affordability of child care: The cost and availability of quality child care are currently barriers for families who seek child care. Child care is expensive, to say the least. It is expensive to run and maintain a child care service—a cost that gets passed on to families. Therefore, the Build Back Better bill 1) provides a plan providing assistance for child care expenses for children, from birth through 5 years of age; 2) provides funding for startup and construction of new child care facilities. The amount of assistance available will change each year until 2025. This is currently a tiered system with the lowest-income families paying a maximum of child care tuition that will be calculated based on their income and the state median income. The maximum that most families would pay could range between 0-7% of their family’s income.
- Preschool for all 3- and 4- year-olds: All children living in states that opt into BBB will be eligible to voluntarily participate in high-quality, free, inclusive, universal preschool. Local schools, Head Start, and licensed child care providers will be provided with the support to implement this program.
- Teacher Qualifications: All lead teachers in the universal preschool program will be required to achieve a BA by 2029, with exceptions made for qualified child care professionals as defined by BBB. Funding, support and training will be provided to assure access to meeting the quality requirements.
- Comprehensive Services: Children living in high-needs areas will have access to family supports to improve overall child well-being. Examples include social, emotional, and physical health and development screenings, and service referrals for children and families as needed.
Availability of quality and affordable child care is also important for children’s development. The increased investment in child care through Build Back Better bill will include funding for training for caregiving professionals who interact with your children each day. These caregivers provide interactions that stimulate and nourish brain development from birth, which includes teaching life skills, social interactions, and academics. Abundant research has made it clear that the earliest years (and days!) are the most important foundation for lifelong learning and success.
This could also have a potential impact on keeping women in the workforce; in this year’s State of Motherhood survey, 48% of working mothers said they have considered leaving the workforce because of the cost of childcare.