#childsafety | A $39 billion lifeline for American child care | #parenting | #parenting | #kids

Editor’s Note: Welcome to Weekly Education: Coronavirus special edition. Each week, we will explore how the pandemic is reshaping and upending education as we know it across the country, from pre-K through grad school. We will explore the debates of the day, new challenges and talk to movers and shakers about whether changes ushered in now are here to stay.

This newsletter is a weekly version of POLITICO Pro’s daily Education policy newsletter, Morning Education. POLITICO Pro is a policy intelligence platform that combines the news you need with tools you can use to take action on the day’s biggest stories. Act on the news with POLITICO Pro.

A LIFELINE FOR AMERICAN CHILD CARE — It might seem like the nation’s child care providers are flush with cash right about now, if you’re only looking at government spending.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, just announced plans to ship more than $303 million of federal aid to struggling child care centers across the Keystone State. Larry Hogan, Maryland’s Republican governor, launched a new $60 million grant program last month. Democratic Gov. Janet Mills of Maine also recently set out to distribute more than $30 million; an estimated three-quarters of that amount is slated for grants to providers.

The money’s coming from a $10 billion slice of coronavirus relief that Congress approved last fall in the last government stimulus package, before it was dished out to states, territories and tribes. That’s atop another $3.5 billion dedicated to child care earlier in 2020 under the CARES Act. But supporters say those dollars can only soften the pandemic’s heavy blow to an industry central to early childhood education, the ability for women to participate in the nation’s workforce and the country’s broader economic recovery.

“Access to affordable, good quality childcare was a deep challenge before the pandemic,” Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.), who sits on the HELP Committee, told reporters last week. “And what has happened with Covid is it has pushed child care to the brink, and put many child care providers at risk of going out of business.”

Much more funding could be on the way: Congress is on the verge of approving a whopping $39 billion in spending for child care agencies and aid to providers affected by the pandemic, as part of President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion recovery proposal. The bill also includes $1 billion for Head Start programs and an expanded tax credit for family child care expenses. Now the question is what’s next for care centers, their workers, and the families who rely on them.

Want to know more about what’s in the sweeping relief bill? Pro Premium subscribers can read our Pro Bill Analysis of the measure.

IT’S MONDAY, MARCH 8. WELCOME TO MORNING EDUCATION. The Senate version of Biden’s relief package includes language designed to tighten federal rules on for-profit colleges and a new provision requiring schools to create reopening plans and set aside money for students experiencing homelessness.

Reach out with tips to today’s host at [email protected] and also my colleagues Michael Stratford ([email protected]) and Bianca Quilantan ([email protected]). And don’t forget to follow us on Twitter: @Morning_Edu and @POLITICOPro.

WHY WE’RE HERE — Child care researchers at the University of California-Berkeley point to a two-pronged problem for providers and workers: Higher costs to pay for safety protocols, and lower revenue from fewer children enrolled in their programs.

That’s led to closed programs and lost jobs that are expected to become permanent. UC Berkeley researchers estimate 166,000 child care industry jobs were lost during the first eight months of the pandemic, and conclude the industry is only 83 percent as large as it was before Covid-19 took hold in the U.S.

Biden has described this as an “acute, immediate child care crisis in America,” and he’s directed states and the federal government to prioritize child care workers and educators for vaccinations.

Children who rely on these programs face consequences beyond the broader hit to the labor market. Early learning at home and in classrooms build critical foundations for children’s social, emotional, physical and cognitive development, the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University noted in a recent report.

Participation in preschool programs declined sharply through the end of last year from pre-pandemic levels, NIEER researchers found. Parent support for reading books at home and teaching basic skills also declined, meaning children lost two important learning opportunities. “Not surprisingly, parents reported unusually high rates of social-emotional or mental health problems for their young children,” researchers said.

The relief bill includes about $24 billion for hard-hit care providers, roughly $15 billion for agencies, and $35 million for needed administrative costs. Whether that’s enough money to heal the industry is another question.

A recent brief from the Brookings Institution concluded that while there’s widespread support for rescuing the industry, there’s “insufficient attention to the reality that rescue funds are not enough to ensure stable, developmentally sensitive care moving forward.”

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