Last week, we celebrated a historic event with Vice President Kamala Harris taking office alongside our nation’s 46th president, Joe Biden. The Biden-Harris administration commences at a time of great turmoil in the United States. We are a country grappling with an unrelenting pandemic, ongoing racism embedded throughout our systems, an uncertain economy and a fragile democracy in crisis.

While running this country is never a small task for any president, this new team will have innumerable challenges and priorities. While the new administration must swiftly focus their efforts on addressing the most urgent crises affecting our communities, my hope is that supporting American families, especially in their child care and early education needs, stays at the top of that list.

Throughout history, crises have created the space and opportunity to re-examine how we support some of the basic functions of our society. Often these re-examinations are driven by the crisis exposing the vulnerabilities of our existing systems. COVID-19 has taken the many cracks in our current systems and exposed them as craters. One of those major gaping pits is the complete absence of a sensible, affordable system of safe and quality child care. While the pandemic-driven closure of schools has brought the problem of child care even more front and center, for parents of children under age five, there was little access to affordable care that supported healthy development even prior to the pandemic. In 2018, 83% of families with children under five said it was a problem to find quality, affordable child care in their area. In a more recent survey, 42% of parents who reported having lost income in the pandemic stated the reason was child care. And, 28% of parents said their child’s child care / preschool closed permanently.

As a part of the latest COVID-19 emergency relief, Congress included $10 billion specifically for the sector. While this is a helpful infusion, it is well below the $50 billion experts projected that we really need—a number that continues to grow every day. Gratefully, President Biden has proposed new relief, including $40 billion to directly support child care providers and systems, as well as temporary boosts to the Child Care and Dependent Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit.

Our elected leaders in Congress must show their support for America’s families and quickly pass these measures. While these supports would provide desperately-needed relief for families and child care providers, they won’t address overdue long-term structural reforms. While leaders and advocates continue to focus on relief efforts to save child care and America’s families, we also have to look at them as a down payment on the future and continue to work toward long-term change.

While the pandemic-driven closure of schools has brought the problem of child care even more front and center, for parents of children under age five, there was little access to affordable care that supported healthy development even prior to the pandemic.
Ashley Beckner, Imaginable Futures

The Build Back Better agenda that President Biden ran on took our country one big step closer to imagining new possibilities for families. The Biden-Harris platform focused on care included several core elements to dramatically expand access to child care and recognize its role in the provision of early education. I hope that the new administration will take this campaign platform with them into the White House, and execute on these promises as soon as possible. Some of those key features include:

  • Recognition of Birth to Three: Recognizes the period of critical brain development prior to the age of three. While President Biden’s historical efforts have centered solely around preschool, this new platform emphasizes the need for quality, affordable child care for our nation’s littlest learners.
  • Affordability: States that families should not pay more than 7% of their annual income for child care.
  • Education and Safety: Calls out the direct link between the quality of care and education received by a child to the training and support offered to the provider of that care and education.
  • Respect and Dignity for the Early Education Workforce: Recognizes the essential role that the providers of education and care play in our society and calls for them to be treated as such with increased pay and benefits, stronger legal protections and more power through union membership and collective bargaining.
  • Investing in the Education of the Whole Family: Recognizes parents enrolled in postsecondary education and commits to investing in quality child care in order to support college success for student parents. This is especially important, as “one in four community college students is a parent — and these parents are disproportionately students of color, and over half are Black women.”
  • Valuing Individual Family Needs and Preferences: Offers flexibility for families to make choices that meet their needs. Every family, like every child, is different. Families have different working hours, including nights and weekends. Especially with their youngest children, families have specific preferences on the type of setting where their child receives care.

These are only several features of the Biden-Harris administration’s set of beliefs about the needs in early education. Decades of scholarship, leadership and activism brought the child care sector to this moment. We have advocates for early education in the White House, but that’s only a starting point. The next phase of work has already begun, and must accelerate, to tip the scales of political will toward real action and fundamentally change the future of child care and early education for America’s families.