National momentum to address the child care crisis in the United States has pushed the federal government closer than it has been in five decades to making needed large-scale investments in the country’s care infrastructure, and recent federal proposals have received

bipartisan support from voters

. While attention has focused on the ups and downs of negotiations in Congress, states have been mobilizing to turn a transformative vision for child care into a tangible reality for families and providers.

States have long been innovation labs where policies are tested, measured, improved, and scaled. With stalled action at the federal level, states have led the way on passing and implementing family-friendly policies, such as paid leave and paid sick days. State policymakers also have tremendous power over implementing federal investments, including recent pandemic relief funding. Although a one-time investment, the American Rescue Plan represented the greatest one-year infusion of cash into the child care sector since World War II, and states are putting it to work to make changes tailored to their states’ specific needs. Understanding that solving child care is central to their economic future, some states are working to figure out how to equitably implement and sustainably build upon this national momentum.

That’s where Child Care NEXT comes in. Coordinated by the Alliance for Early Success, Child Care NEXT is an initiative to support states that are ready to mount long-term, equity-driven campaigns to achieve transformative change in their child care systems. The multi-state collaborative includes coalitions of grassroots organizers and policy advocates in Colorado, Louisiana, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, and Virginia.

These six states were selected in large part due to their commitment to a set of core principles, including centering racial equity and ensuring those who are most impacted by the work have a meaningful role in shaping the solution and campaign. These campaigns aim to put their states on the path to more affordable and high-quality child care systems that are equitable for families, providers, and the workforce -- and in doing so, will test and refine needed solutions, and the pathway to win them, that can be replicated and scaled across the country.

Early education center (Photo by Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for EDUimages)

Photo by Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for EDUimages

“The early childhood advocacy community has to move beyond tinkering around the edges,” says Alliance Executive Director Helene Stebbins. “While we should always continue to push for incremental state funding increases and policy improvements, bold change will only come when we’ve built a powerful, diverse, and immovable constituency for young children’s well-being. We believe capacity, coalitions, power equity, and bold agendas are the only path to opportunity and support for every child in every state.”

Child Care NEXT’s focus on advancing a long-term, transformative movement to reimagine state child care systems, with an emphasis on racial equity and shared power, makes this initiative distinct – and a key partner in Imaginable Futures’ US strategy. Our support of Child Care NEXT’s state-level work complements our investments in grassroots organizations that build public will at the local level and advocacy efforts that are reshaping the national narrative around care.

Bold change will only come when we’ve built a powerful, diverse, and immovable constituency for young children’s well-being.
Helene Stebbins, Executive Director, Alliance for Early Success

We are inspired by Child Care NEXT’s approach, which explicitly works to develop trust and relationships among different groups, connecting parents with providers and policy leaders with grassroots community organizers to harness their collective power toward the systemic change we need.

“People with deep, first-hand experience navigating the child care industry have to be at the table,” says Rochelle Wilcox, Executive Director at Wilcox Academy of Early Learning and the Co-Chair of Geaux Far Louisiana, which is Louisiana’s Child Care NEXT coalition. “But policymaking too often happens without the input or influence of the most impacted people. Child Care NEXT is making sure providers and parents are central – and that will make the system much stronger and more successful in the long run.”

Recognizing that communities of color are disproportionately impacted by a child care system with high costs for parents and low pay for providers, the initiative has made racial equity a cornerstone of its work.

“In the early days of this work, when we convened a national workgroup of state advocates to develop a roadmap for best-in-class child care policy, equity emerged as a foundational concern,” says Alliance Senior Policy Director Albert Wat, who is one of the leaders of the Child Care NEXT work at the Alliance. “So Child Care NEXT centers equity in outcomes, equity in professional support, equity in delivery models, and – maybe most important – power equity in the advocacy work itself.”

Each state in the Child Care NEXT cohort will work to develop a unified campaign vision that articulates a transformative model of child care – for instance, a state’s coalition may decide on a vision that caps parent fees at a certain rate, such as the 7% outlined in the Child Care for Working Families Act. Then, the coalitions will put together an advocacy roadmap and policy report to realize this vision. Child Care NEXT will provide funding, technical assistance, and peer learning opportunities to sustain each campaign’s progress.

In the United States, state-level initiatives that are built on trust and shared values will be critical to sustaining a long-term movement for systemic policy change on child care. Parents should be able to afford reliable, quality child care, while providers should be valued and compensated for the essential work they do. Child Care NEXT is providing the tools for states to make this vision a reality.

People with deep, first-hand experience navigating the child care industry have to be at the table.
Rochelle Wilcox, Executive Director, Wilcox Academy of Early Learning, and Co-Chair, Geaux Far Louisiana, a Child Care NEXT coalition