Is the end of federal relief money worsening a child care crisis? – K-12 Dive

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Dive Brief:

  • The expiration in fall 2023 of federal COVID-19 emergency child care funding is creating a “child care crisis as centers face multiple challenges including staff shortages, program closures and rising tuition rates, according to survey results released by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. 
  • Of survey respondents who identified as center directors and family child care owners or operators, 56% said they were underenrolled based on their current capacity. The reasons for underenrollment included staffing shortages (89%), low pay (77%) and lack of affordability for families (66%).
  • Additionally, the U.S. Department of Education on Monday released revised guidance for how schools, districts and states can use federal Title I funding to expand access to high-quality preschool for 3- to 5-year-olds in a range of settings including schools, Head Start programs, and community-based organizations. The guidance was last updated in 2012.

Dive Insight:

According to the NAEYC analysis of survey responses from 10,128 early childhood educators nationwide, 55% of all respondents said they knew of at least one child care program closing in their community in the past six months. Only 30% were aware of a new program opening, and 11% said four or more programs closed in their community.

About 36% of directors, owners and operators said they were paying more in rent compared to 6 months earlier. Nearly half (49%) reported paying more for liability insurance. 

“The results make it clear — significant public investment in child care is needed urgently to ensure programs can retain qualified educators and remain open to serve children and families,” said Michelle Kang, CEO of NAEYC, in a statement.

Nearly $24 billion in American Rescue Plan funds for child care stabilization grants to states, territories, and tribes expired Sept. 30, 2023. That money was targeted to the child care industry to meet the challenges caused by the pandemic.

At the time, The Century Foundation, a nonprofit think tank, estimated 3.2 million children would lose access to child care and about 70,000 child care programs would close when the stabilization funds ran out.

In a report last month, The Century Foundation noted efforts in several states over the past two years to prop up the child care sector. The report specifically highlights initiatives in New Mexico that made it the first state to create a permanent fund for child care through a ballot initiative.

Additionally, an analysis from the First Five Years Fund, a nonprofit focused on affordable access to quality child care and early learning programs, found this sector was a focal point of governors’ state of state addresses. The analysis, released this month, reviewed 40 governors’ addresses delivered before February 22, 2023, and found most (82%) devoted a portion of their remarks to child care, early learning and policies that help new parents and babies.

Expanding early childhood education opportunities through the use of federal Title I funding is also the focus of an updated resource from the Education Department. The nonbinding guidance explains that Title I funds can be used to serve eligible children from birth to school age, but acknowledges that, in practice, most of these preschool Title I funds are for programs serving children ages 3 to 5. 

Additionally, the guidance describes how Title I funds can support the professional development and retention of early educators. It also highlights ways to meet the developmental and linguistic needs of preschool students, especially children with disabilities and English learners.

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