It is well known by now that the pandemic has decimated the child care industry: at the end of last year, there were 166,800 fewer child care workers than the previous December. More than 80 percent of child care centers that are still open enroll fewer children than before the pandemic. And experts have estimated that up to 40 percent of centers could close permanently. Among preschool classrooms alone, the percentage of 3 and 4-year-olds attending dropped by nearly 25 percent, according to a recent survey from the National Institute for Early Education Research. Young children in poverty have been hardest hit, with severely reduced access to in-person preschool during the pandemic.

Child care advocates, however, have been heartened recently that President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, which passed the U.S. House of Representatives late last month, includes $24 billion in an emergency stabilization fund that would support child care providers with rent, payroll and pandemic-related costs to keep classrooms open and safe. The plan also includes $15 billion in additional funds toward the federally-funded Child Care and Development Block Grant Program, which is administered through states in the form of child care assistance for families. In addition, recent proposals from lawmakers have included increases to the Child Tax Credit and the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit, which are meant to support families with children.

As early learning receives more federal attention — and possible funds — experts recommend the following steps to make a high-quality, equitable and more accessible system:

  1. Include independent settings, like family child care, in immediate and long-term funding plans and increases.
  2. Improve compensation to early childhood educators.
  3. Support and expand federally-funded Head Start programs.
  4. Consider financial relief and support for families to ease costs related to child care and raising children.

Read the full article about early education by Jackie Mader at The Hechinger Report.