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We already have child care and early education programs that work. Let’s invest in them

Democrats’ one-size-fits-all approach would be disastrous for working parents

Children play at a day care center in Baltimore in January. Congress has the opportunity to help more working families by building on and increasing funding for two already proven and successful programs, Burr writes.
Children play at a day care center in Baltimore in January. Congress has the opportunity to help more working families by building on and increasing funding for two already proven and successful programs, Burr writes. (Matt Roth/The Washington Post via Getty Images file photo)

The strength of the relationship between a family and their child care provider is deeply important. It’s one of the many reasons parents today spend months, if not years, researching the best child care options for their needs.

Unfortunately, finding adequate, affordable child care has become increasingly difficult for many working families. Even before the pandemic disrupted our daily routines, parents were struggling under financial and emotional burdens caused by a lack of affordable options. This shouldn’t be the case.

Imagine a bipartisan bill designed to improve child care options for families across the country. This bill would provide financial help to make child care free for low-income working Americans and affordable for more. It would support a diverse mix of child care providers — centers, family child care homes, large, small, rural, urban, faith-based, public and private. And it would allow providers to offer a high-quality, nurturing environment for our nation’s youngest children, from birth to age 5.

Imagine this bill is so popular, it receives 96 votes in the Senate and passes by voice vote in the House. The president, signing the bill into law, says, “Today, Democrats and Republicans stand united to ensure we have affordable, high-quality child care and early education for our young children. That’s good for our kids, our parents and the country.”

Imagine the law is a success. It supports the 675,000 child care providers around the country caring for nearly 12 million children. It becomes so critical that each time the law needs updating, Republicans and Democrats work to reach bipartisan agreement.

Such a law already exists.

The Child Care and Development Block Grant, or CCDBG, and Head Start are important pillars of child care and early education in the United States and enjoy broad, bipartisan support. Congress has the opportunity to help more working families by building on and increasing funding for two already proven and successful programs.

So why are some Democrats now refusing to come to the table on this issue as Congress has in the past? Because for them, this isn’t just about child care; it’s about making your child care decisions for you.

Democrats want to see families in a one-size-fits-all system, in which child care decisions are made in Washington instead of at home. Child care largely stayed open during the pandemic, providing a lifeline to millions of parents, while public K-12 schools stayed closed, thanks to teachers’ unions. Now, Democrats want to import the teachers’ union mentality that kept children out of school into the preschool and child care arena. Doing so would be disastrous.

Instead, we should take what’s already worked for millions of children and build on it to reach millions more.

One of the key reasons CCDBG and Head Start have been so popular is that they allow parents to decide what type of child care is right for their family and their needs.

At the state level, a variety of programs have dispelled the myth that giving families more resources and more flexibility is an either/or proposition. Georgia’s universal pre-K program allows parents to choose from a mixed delivery system of public and private pre-K providers. West Virginia guarantees both parent choice and an early education continuum from birth to kindergarten.

Increased federal support for families and child care providers would help ensure each state has a mixed-delivery system and an early education continuum of care, allowing parents to make the best decision about where to send their child.

Head Start would continue. Child care providers would have access to stable funding to better compensate, support and retain the early educators who nurture our nation’s children during the critical early years. States would continue to blend federal and state funds to improve quality, expand access and make child care more affordable.

Lower- and middle-income families would see increased subsidies, making child care free for more and cheaper for most.

We must also find ways to provide assistance for parents who choose to stay home caring for their children so this decision isn’t a budget killer for families or taxpayers.

Democrats are tempted to use the pandemic as an excuse to pack grand policy experiments into partisan bills. Destroying the existing array of child care providers and taking decisions out of the hands of parents is the last thing we should be doing to American families after the hardships of the last year.

There is a better, bipartisan way, and I’m ready to get to work. 

Sen. Richard M. Burr is a Republican representing the state of North Carolina. He is the ranking member on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, and also serves on the Intelligence, Finance and Aging committees.  

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