Let's put politics aside for the wellbeing of America's children and families

Let's put politics aside for the wellbeing of America's children and families
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A growing body of research shows that Americans recognize early childhood development as critical to the wellbeing of the nation. Across the country, states in all shades of red, blue and purple are stepping up to develop policies and invest in working families and young children. At the federal level, several policy proposals have been introduced in 2019, and we are sure to see additional ideas throughout the upcoming election cycle.

The emphasis on these issues is important. Unfortunately, the ever-growing partisan divide is complicating a vital national conversation that must be had between leaders from each political party at every level of government and in communities.  

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When leaders come together across the aisle, we see well-designed, meaningful, durable changes signed into law, with real impacts on children and their families.

For example, 45 states recently received a Preschool Development Grant Birth through Five from the Department of Health and Human Services. This program was a result of bipartisan legislation, and will help both red and blue states more effectively provide early childhood services to children and families. Interestingly, this version of the grants received more applications than when the program was developed without bipartisan congressional input.

The bipartisan reauthorization of the Child Care and Development Block Grant Act (CCDBG) in 2014 was the first reauthorization of that law in 18 years. Since then, bipartisan leaders in Congress approved the single-largest increase to CCDBG in the program’s history for both fiscal year (FY) 2018 and FY 2019. Early Head Start and Head Start also received noteworthy funding increases in those appropriation bills.

Also in 2014, Congress created the Early Head Start-Child Care Partnership program, an intentionally unique blend of the best features of the individual programs, layering funding to provide comprehensive and continuous services to low-income families with infants and toddlers. This program demonstrates that when the federal government works together to find innovative solutions and provide resources, flexibility and clear accountability standards, local communities ultimately will meet the challenge of serving the nation’s low-income working families and their children.

Already this Congress, H.R. 840, the Veterans’ Access to Child Care Act, passed the House with overwhelming bipartisan support.

Early childhood development is a unique issue, and because Americans see it as a starting point for enabling individual success and improving one’s opportunities in life, there is a lot of room for innovation and investment in this area. There also is an empty hole where real leadership needs to step in.

In order to do this, leaders must recognize that although there is widespread agreement on the importance of early childhood development and availability of quality care for working families, there will be many differences of opinion in how to solve pressing issues. Coming to the table ready and willing to discuss these differences is the key to transformative change.

For example, a survey conducted last year by Luntz Global on behalf of the Bipartisan Policy Center found that Americans of all political stripes have a much greater trust in local and state governments than in the federal government, and even higher trust in nonprofit solutions for child care and early learning programs, followed by public-private partnerships and private companies. While Americans might trust local governments and nonprofits more, conservatives and liberals place primary responsibility for funding quality child care programs on the state and federal governments, respectively. It is this level of understanding that will lead to meaningful, bipartisan conversations on the path forward.

Unfortunately, this understanding of differences and openness for discussion is waning at the federal level. Politics and showmanship are becoming more important to many legislators than having real policy solutions that can improve the lives of families across the country.

The examples above show that when there is a willingness to reach across the aisle and work together to develop real solutions for America’s families, consensus and agreement are possible. Congress owes this to the American people: According to a 2018 national poll, Democratic and Republican voters are less interested in seeing partisans stand their ground than they are seeing them stand up for young children and their families. 

We call upon congressional leaders to do just that. Instead of taking the easy path and developing partisan proposals, reach across the aisle to develop policy approaches that can support healthy early childhood development for the good of the country.  

Linda K. Smith is director of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s (BPC) Early Childhood Initiative and was a key architect of the military child care system. Follow her on Twitter @lksmith1215.

Kathlyn McHenry is a senior policy analyst at BPC and formerly served on the staff of the House Education and Workforce Committee.