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Let’s put politics aside for the wellbeing of America’s children and families

March 13, 2019
Linda K. Smith and Kathlyn McHenry
The Hill

A growing body of research shows that Americans recognize early childhood development as critical to the wellbeing of the nation. Across the country, states in all shades of red, blue and purple are stepping up to develop policies and invest in working families and young children. At the federal level, several policy proposals have been introduced in 2019, and we are sure to see additional ideas throughout the upcoming election cycle.

The emphasis on these issues is important. Unfortunately, the ever-growing partisan divide is complicating a vital national conversation that must be had between leaders from each political party at every level of government and in communities.

When leaders come together across the aisle, we see well-designed, meaningful, durable changes signed into law, with real impacts on children and their families.

For example, 45 states recently received a Preschool Development Grant Birth through Five from the Department of Health and Human Services. This program was a result of bipartisan legislation, and will help both red and blue states more effectively provide early childhood services to children and families. Interestingly, this version of the grants received more applications than when the program was developed without bipartisan congressional input.

The bipartisan reauthorization of the Child Care and Development Block Grant Act (CCDBG) in 2014 was the first reauthorization of that law in 18 years. Since then, bipartisan leaders in Congress approved the single-largest increase to CCDBG in the program’s history for both fiscal year (FY) 2018 and FY 2019. Early Head Start and Head Start also received noteworthy funding increases in those appropriation bills.

Also in 2014, Congress created the Early Head Start-Child Care Partnership program, an intentionally unique blend of the best features of the individual programs, layering funding to provide comprehensive and continuous services to low-income families with infants and toddlers. This program demonstrates that when the federal government works together to find innovative solutions and provide resources, flexibility and clear accountability standards, local communities ultimately will meet the challenge of serving the nation’s low-income working families and their children.

Already this Congress, H.R. 840, the Veterans’ Access to Child Care Act, passed the House with overwhelming bipartisan support.

Early childhood development is a unique issue, and because Americans see it as a starting point for enabling individual success and improving one’s opportunities in life, there is a lot of room for innovation and investment in this area. There also is an empty hole where real leadership needs to step in.

In order to do this, leaders must recognize that although there is widespread agreement on the importance of early childhood development and availability of quality care for working families, there will be many differences of opinion in how to solve pressing issues. Coming to the table ready and willing to discuss these differences is the key to transformative change….

Linda K. Smith is director of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s (BPC) Early Childhood Initiative and was a key architect of the military child care system. Follow her on Twitter @lksmith1215.

Kathlyn McHenry is a senior policy analyst at BPC and formerly served on the staff of the House Education and Workforce Committee.