Tag Archives: pre-k funding

How Universal Pre-k Broke Subsidized Child Care in D.C.

cribsChild-care costs for infants and toddlers (ages 0-2) in DC are among the highest in the nation — over $23,000 for center-based care for infants. For families for whom that would be almost half their annual income, subsidized child care is increasingly hard to get, and pre-k might be partly to blame. I am a huge fan of D.C.’s investments in high-quality pre-k for three and four year olds, but market impacts of booming pre-k enrollment have made it tougher for child-care providers to accept infants and toddlers at subsidized rates, even in neighborhoods with few high-income families.

Here’s what happened, from a cost-modeling study from the D.C. Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE):*

  • Caring for infants and toddlers is more expensive than caring for three- and four-year-olds. More staff are needed, and more regulations have to be followed in order to meet licensing requirements and qualify as a subsidized child care provider.
  • Child-care subsidies are higher for infants and toddlers, but they’re not nearly enough to cover the full cost of operating a high-quality program. So providers need additional sources of revenue to break even.
  • Serving more three- and four-year-olds is one way to narrow the cost gap while continuing to serve infants and toddlers at subsidized rates. Even with mixed ages, it is still much easier to break even by serving families paying market rates.

What the cost-modeling study doesn’t explicitly say is that school-based pre-k makes the mixed-ages strategy less viable. With 76% of three- and four-year-olds in school-based pre-k, the market for child care in those age groups is now very small. In neighborhoods with higher-income families, child-care providers can stop accepting subsidies, charge (insanely high) market rates, and still have long wait lists. At the same time, in neighborhoods where no one can pay $23,000 for child care, meeting high-quality standards for infants and toddlers with subsidies alone is nearly impossible. As a result, providers are more likely to cut quality in order to cut costs, shut down, or operate illegally. According to information currently available, 88 licensed child-care providers in the whole city accept subsidies and offer full-time infant and toddler care, and only about a third of those earned a “gold” quality rating. If a family needs things like flexible drop-off times or services for disabilities, the options are even scarcer.

Pre-k access and child-care costs are both getting more attention on a local and national scale. But, few media stories point out how intertwined pre-k and child care are in the early care and education market, and how changes to one will impact the other. As more cities look to expand pre-k, access to child care for younger children shouldn’t accidentally take a hit when pre-k thrives, and infant and toddler subsidies should match the cost of high-quality care.

*Disclosure: I am a former OSSE employee, but had no involvement in this study or child-care and pre-k policies while I was there.

Correction: The cost of an infant in a child care center in D.C. is approximately $23,000. The $40,000 number originally stated is the estimated cost for an infant and a four year old combined. Source.

The “Soft Bigotry of ‘It’s Optional’”–and What it Reveals about ESEA Politics, Policy, and Prospects

No matter the final outcome, one things is for certain: the new Congress has energized the debate over ESEA reauthorization. In the span of a weekend, numerous organizations articulated key principles for overhauling No Child Left Behind, including state education chiefscivil rights organizations, and the nation’s second largest teachers union, the AFT.

Now, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has stepped into the fray, in a significant policy speech this morning, marking the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson’s call to Congress to expand the federal role in education–which resulted in the original Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

The big news item here is Secretary Duncan’s “line in the sand”–keeping the requirement for students to be tested statewide in reading and math annually in grades 3-8 and once in high school. But what sets Duncan’s remarks apart from the statements released over the weekend isn’t testing, but how strongly he defended other potential federal responsibilities in a new ESEA, including requirements for states to:

  • adopt college- and career-ready standards;
  • continue producing annual information for families about their child’s learning, and the learning environment and results for their schools as a whole;
  • maintain school accountability systems that include consequences for schools where students don’t make academic progress; and
  • improve teacher preparation programs, and establish teacher evaluation systems that include evidence of students’ learning.

Duncan also highlighted ways the federal government could be even more active in promoting opportunity, such as resource accountability to ensure that low-income and minority kids are not shortchanged when it comes to course access, effective teachers, and fiscal resources; new support for innovation and research that helps schools continuously improve; and an expanded role within ESEA to help states deliver high-quality preschool.

In defending a robust federal role, Secretary Duncan even co-opted President Bush’s talking point by calling out “the soft bigotry of ‘it’s optional.’” That’s not just a great punch line. It also revealed much more about the politics of reauthorization, the confusing and convoluted federal education policy landscape, and the prospects of this particular effort to rewrite NCLB. Continue reading

What’s the Deal with Pre-K Funding in Maryland?

Earlier this month, U.S. Department of Education awarded Maryland a $15 million Preschool Development Grant. This award recognizes Maryland’s history of leadership in providing quality preschool for low-income students — but it could also increase the complexity and fragmentation of the state’s preschool funding landscape.

And Maryland’s pre-k funding structure is complex enough as it is. Unlike any other state, for the past twelve years Maryland has required districts to offer pre-k through the Bridge to Excellence Act (BTE), but it doesn’t have a dedicated pre-k funding stream to fund that requirement. Through BTE, the state completely revised its school finance structure and increased state aid to public schools by $1.3 billion over six years. In return, districts had to provide fullday kindergarten and at least half-day pre-k for students from families with income levels at or below 185 percent of the federal poverty guideline.

Because of the structure of the BTE formula, districts that had the most low-income kids to serve got the biggest funding increases. The new formula distributed 74 percent of the additional state aid inverse to local wealth, so less affluent districts received more aid than more affluent districts. Each school district received a base amount and additional funds based on the number of students who receive special education services, who have limited English proficiency, and who qualify for free- and reduced-price meals.

From the state perspective, the additional state aid should cover the cost of the pre-k requirement. From a district perspective, pre-k is an unfunded mandate: there’s no distinct, dedicated funding stream for pre-k, as exists in many other states. Maryland districts pay for pre-k out of their general state aid pot.

Fast forward to earlier this year. Maryland passed the Preschool Expansion Act, which created a completely different pre-k initiative. Preschool Expansion is a $4.3 million competitive grant program for children up to 300 percent of the federal poverty guideline. Now the federal Preschool Development Grant will fund another pre-k initiative for students up to 200 percent of the federal poverty guideline. That’s three different pre-k initiatives for three different, but overlapping, student populations.

To be sure, additional pre-k money is good news for Maryland students. And yet, Maryland students (and parents, and schools) deserve some reassurance that there’s a coherent strategy in place. Neither the Preschool Expansion Act nor the Preschool Development Grant directly supports the existing pre-k structure in Maryland. Instead, the state piled on two new initiatives right on top of BTE, which was already the third effort since 1980. The result is a fragmented array of pre-k funding options, none of which perfectly align in services, providers, or priorities.

Maryland isn’t alone in this complex pre-k funding system. Louisiana and New Jersey, also Preschool Development Grant winners, have at least three different, concurrently operating pre-k funding streams that tend to merge and separate over time. State policymakers often have political or pragmatic reasons to create multiple pre-k funding streams – but the result falls short of a cohesive strategy and instead leaves a confused pre-k landscape that is harder to navigate, harder to manage, and harder to sell.