We are on the precipice of a timely opportunity in Wisconsin and the United States – an opportunity to completely transform the early care and education landscape through the Build Back Better bill making its way through the U.S. House and Senate.
We’re incredibly excited that the House of Representatives passed the bill last week. Now, it’s onto the Senate, where we’re equally hopeful about timely passage. If enacted, it will include the single largest public investment in child care and preschool in the United States, ever.
This is critical because it means the U.S. will finally invest in child care at a level similar to other wealthy nations. If we’re able to invest in child care in this way, America will be a place where children and families, early childhood professionals, businesses and communities are supported and able to thrive.
We know child care has been in crisis for far too long. This has impacted the early childhood workforce, children and families, employers and, by extension, the economic and social health of our communities. The COVID-19 pandemic only exacerbated this long-known crisis, making the need for systemic, meaningful change more urgent than ever before.
The issue is complex and multi-pronged, but it can be solved. Affordable, accessible child care allows parents to work while supporting the optimal, healthy development of our youngest children. In fact, a child’s earliest years are vital for their future.
We know parents, guardians and caregivers of young children are unable to work if they cannot access child care or that access is unreliable. Much of Wisconsin, including nearly 70 percent in rural areas, are in child care “deserts.” This is when a census tract has more than three children under age five for every licensed child care slot. In short there are far more children who need child care than there is regulated care available. Employers, then, experience workforce and productivity challenges if parents struggle to find and maintain care.
Meanwhile, child care professionals are woefully underpaid while doing this vital child development work. These professionals are the workforce behind our state’s and nation’s entire workforce. Their contributions are critical to the economic well-being of our state and to the current and future generation of workers.
Then, there’s also the expense of child care – it is far too costly and largely unaffordable for many families who absolutely need it to be reliable, productive employees.
Enter Build Back Better. We view the bill as an exciting opportunity because it would assist in reducing the cost of care for families, pay early childhood professionals in parity with their K-12 peers and invest in universal preschool in a mixed delivery model. For more on the universal preschool portion of the legislation, read this report from the Congressional Research Service.
Build Back Better gives us the opportunity for lasting, meaningful change in how we care for and educate our youngest children. It will be the start of a new future for families and their children, child care professionals, businesses and communities – a welcome, long-awaited and crucial new future.
What’s best for children is good public policy – essential and bipartisan. We remain optimistic our federal and state policymakers will come together to finally solve it for good.