In 2018, the National Academy of Sciences consensus report (1) estimated a more than four-fold gap between the annual investment levels of approximately $29 billion and the $140 billion needed to fully fund (2) an equitable, sustainable early care and education system, beginning at birth, that improves the quality of care for all children and ensures full access to every young child in the United States. The threadbare and unsustainable margins that the sector has operated on pre-pandemic are overwhelmingly subsidized by a low-wage workforce. This workforce is primarily comprised of Black, Indigenous, Latina, and Asian and Pacific Islander women including immigrants who are being strained even further due to COVID. All the while, parents find it difficult to keep up with fees or pay for high quality care at all. Sporadic state and local resources are available to assist, though more local leaders are coming to the realization that their contribution will also be required to fully fund the early childhood needs of their residents.
The recent infusion of over $50 billion helps stabilize the early care and education sector and provides a down payment that begins to address a long-standing funding crisis that has only been exacerbated by the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic. Even amidst the game-changing infusion of resources from the American Rescue Plan and other federal recovery efforts, all levels of government must both use this time to administer funds well, and prepare for the eventuality of a more robust and balanced funding approach across federal, state, local and private investments in the years to come, as proposals and efforts to make expanded financial supports more permanent are underway. (3)
For these reasons, stakeholders from all arenas are calling for much bigger and bolder investments to adequately meet the need. As leaders at all levels of the philanthropic sector – local, regional and national – the Early Childhood Funders Collaborative (ECFC) joins the call for bigger and bolder investments toward a fully funded, affordable, accessible, and high-quality early care and education system for all young children. The American Rescue Plan provides much needed relief to families and communities through tax credits for families and funding for states and localities in an effort to address the child care crisis. These investments must be made permanent and the dollars spent must not just address an immediate crisis, but support transformative change to reform the early care and education system.
To that end, ECFC affirms the following:
- ECFC affirms that early care and education is a public good that enjoys broad bipartisan support and will require much more significant public investment. (4) The significance of this cannot be overstated. More than three decades of research (5) have provided evidence that the nation needs to act jointly to strengthen and expand quality early care and education environments. The next generation of collective work will require a considerable expansion of resources. Closing the gap between what’s needed and current investment levels will require concerted and coordinated effort at Federal, state, and local levels with roles for all actors towards moving to full financing for early care and education. Philanthropy can support research, public-private partnerships, movement building, and advocacy in support of a system that has enough public funding and equitable governance to make the system work for all families and educators.
- ECFC endorses a fully-funded system of high quality early care and education that is accessible and affordable for every child in every setting (including home-based, centers, and schools). Several national and regional organizations, urging the Administration to make early care and education a priority, have raised two pillars that bolster the system going forward. First, as a sector that depends on deep investments in both physical and human capital, the system must fully support early childhood educators in securing family-sustaining wages and benefits. Second, this workforce must have expanded pathways to affordable, high-quality professional development and preparation that leads to credentials that allow for increased compensation on par with their K-12 counterparts.
- ECFC commits to promoting coordinated philanthropic investments in support of early care and education as a public good and securing the public will and policymaker support for the full financing of early care and education. (6) This commitment includes actively promoting support for building the analysis and curation of research needed to enable policy decision-making related to expanded investments, directing the stewardship of public dollars, and raising the important role that states play in the timely and equitable distribution of public resources and the coordination of those resources across government units in their state. For several decades, ECFC members and other funders have invested in projects that would position the nation to now make these public investments. Private philanthropy has funded analyses of current resources, cost modeling projections, and tools to assess how a financing system might operate. Philanthropy has additionally funded advocacy and grassroots organizing to raise awareness and invested in pilots of an infrastructure that works, including shared services, local financing campaigns to expand early care and education, and COVID-19 partnerships to ensure that young children from the most under-resourced communities have the best possible chances in life. These private investments are so promising; it is time to leverage the investments that have proven child care to be a public good and coordinate efforts going forward to scale the public investment needed to all communities and make those structural investments permanent.
The Early Childhood Funders Collaborative is committed to continued partnership in the effort to move to a post-pandemic recovery and a system that is anti-racist, welcoming, and accessible to all families. A long-term plan for a fully funded early care and education system is needed, so that our youngest children can learn, grow, and thrive and the early care and education sector can be healthy and sustainable, in partnership with the diverse communities they serve, as an essential part of our social infrastructure in moving the nation forward.
1 The New America Foundation provides a glossary of key financing definitions from the National Academy of Sciences Report, Transforming the Financing of Early Care and Education. See this glossary of terms.
2 The basis for full funding of a high-quality early care and education system derives from six principles for high-quality early care and education from the National Academy of Sciences consensus report, including a well-compensated and professionally supported workforce (with parity to professional counterparts in K-12 education), makes parent cost burden affordable, and ensures high quality across settings. From these principles, a set of criteria were developed by which to judge the existing financing mechanisms that make up the current, fragmented financing structure and outline a vision for a shared cost burden structure for balanced federal, state and local, and parent contributions. See National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine 2018. Transforming the Financing of Early Care and Education. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
The Economic Policy Institute further provides a state-by-state estimate of a values-based budget similarly derived from the principles outlined in the NAS report aligning costs with what is needed for a high quality system. See Gould, E., Whitebook, M., Mokhiber, Z., and Austin, L. (January 15, 2020). A values-based early care and education system would benefit children, parents, and teachers. Economic Policy Institute.
3 The terms “robust” and “balanced” make reference to the financing system broadly outlined in the NAS report, calling for sustainable levels of federal, state, local, and family contributions that meet the multiple objectives of an equitable system that serves families, workers, and supports quality care.
4 National polling data from January 2021 sponsored by the First Five Years Fund showed broad bipartisan support for subsidies to help working families pay for child care (with 96% of Democrats, 86% of Independents, and 74% of Republicans supporting), specifically financial support on a sliding scale to help working families pay for child care, with the typical family paying about $45/week (with 93% of Democrats, 83% of Independents, and 78% of Republicans supporting). See Hart Research/New Bridge Strategy. (2021). Voters’ views/priorities for child care and early education in 2021. First Five Years Fund.
5 The National Academy of Sciences report synthesizes much of the research on financing mechanisms for early care and education. Additional studies, including the work of the Bipartisan Policy Center, outlines the gap between available supply and the actual need for care in 25 states, establishing the need for increased investments. See Smith, L., Bagley, A., & Wolters, B. (2020). Child care in 25 states: What we know and don’t know. Bipartisan Policy Center.
6 ECFC will continue to promote coordinated philanthropic investment in advocacy, organizing, research, and education led by grassroots networks to build public will and political support for the full financing of early care and education.