Many families drop their child off at an Early Learning program where they trust their child's needs will be met, but few of these families realize how Early Learning funding impacts the quality of the early care and education that their child receives. However, as with most things in life, funding does impact quality which has real consequences for the children in Early Learning programs.
These consequences, such as children not having care from a consistent teacher, have social and emotional impacts that society will pay for in the long-term. For example, we know that children who do not have consistent, trusting relationships are more likely to develop emotional problems that may lead to the need for special education services and remedial education, failure to graduate from high school, not attending college, and becoming incarcerated. Unfortunately, as the country continues to struggle with a long recession, states are cutting Child Care Assistance Programs (CCAP) that allow many families whose incomes are at or near the poverty level to work and their child(ren) to be in a quality Early Learning program.
The National Women's Law Center recently published a report titled State Child Care Assistance Policies 2011: Reduced Support For Families In Challenging Times which details how many low-income families are receiving less support towards the cost of child care than they were a year ago. The report, also, looks at reimbursement rates for Early Learning programs and notes that most states set their reimbursement rates below the 75% of market rate that is recommended by the federal government. As states have struggled financially, reimbursement rates for Early Learning programs have fallen from 23 states reimbursing at least 75% of the market rate in 2001 to 3 states reimbursing at least 75% of the market rate in 2011. The economic impact on already underfunded Early Childhood Education programs is enormous and has led to many programs struggling to maintain high quality practices, such as retaining consistent staff.
While it would be easy to point fingers at policy makers for cutting programs, such as CCAP, the decisions to make cuts to these programs reflects a lack of understanding about the value of Early Care and Education on the part of the general public. Unfortunately, as Early Learning advocates, we have not always let the story of why there is value to programs like CCAP. I urge those of you who have a story to tell about the impact CCAP has had on your program, as well as the families and children you serve to share it with everyone you know, but especially the media and policy makers. As we begin to tell the story of Early Care and Education, the respect and funding our field needs and deserves will follow.