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The Senate can’t leave women and children behind, again

Last week, senators moved toward a reconciliation package that looks almost nothing like the legislation they promised Americans just months ago. With zero dollars allocated to early education and care — a dramatic shift from the $400 billion promised in an earlier House package — the Senate’s current plan would exclude critical funding for affordable, quality child care and neglect a generation of young learners.

The Senate cannot turn their backs on the families struggling to afford care, the early educators living paycheck to paycheck, the women who left the workforce as the child care system collapsed during the pandemic, and all the young children who deserve quality early learning experiences during the critical first five years of development. As the bill stands currently, the Senate is slated to abandon the millions of voters who elected President Biden on the basis of a Build Back Better agenda that had early education and care at its core. Despite what some elected officials tout as victorious, $400 billion to $0 is not a compromise. It’s capitulation.

As the CEO of a national early education organization who understands just how poorly our system is supporting educators, children, and families, I know it is imperative that the Senate advances Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Tim Kaine’s (D-Va.) $200 billion proposal to fund child care and early learning opportunities for children and care workers nationwide.

Federal investment in the early childhood education (ECE) sector is not only essential for the wellbeing of our country’s children, it’s the most important tool we have to bolster our economy and ease the burden on families struggling with the high costs of inflation. Without well-funded child care, parents forced to choose between work and caring for their children will stay home, resulting in lost revenue for their employer and lost income to the family. 

Far too often these tough choices between child care and the workforce fall to mothers, exacerbating the pay gap and stalling progress toward gender equity and equal compensation for equal work. 

We also know that 94% of child care workers are women and 40% are people of color, and the vast majority of early educators and child care workers do not earn a living wage. The early education workforce is one of the most underpaid sectors in the country, despite serving a crucial function in our society: educating and empowering our children. According to research by the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment at the University of California Berkeley, the poverty rate for early educators in our home state of Massachusetts was a staggering 15.3 percent in 2020. Federal investment in ECE is vital to rectifying the historic undervaluing of Black women’s labor and ensuring that racial and gender equity are at the heart of our country’s economic future. 

Now more than ever, voters are looking to their elected officials for confirmation that the lives of women, young children, and young families matter. An investment in affordable and accessible child care and living wages for child care workers has never been so important.

There is a path forward. Elected officials have an opportunity to stand for equity and take action on behalf of American families by supporting the latest proposal from Senators Patty Murray and Tim Kaine that would finally make the crucial investment in ECE that families, providers, educators, young learners, and the economy desperately need. Under this proposal, we would see an investment of up to $200 billion in the early education and care system, advancing equitable access to quality early learning for communities nationwide and building upon the foundation of successful federal programs like the Child Care and Development Block Grant and Head Start.

After months of tough conversations and difficult negotiations, we understand that many lawmakers are eager for a win. But a reconciliation package without funding for child care and early educators is far from a win for American families, who overwhelmingly endorse ECE funding and who desperately need support. 

At this pivotal moment in our country’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic and after the Supreme Court’s historic blow to gender equity, lawmakers have an opportunity to signal to their constituents that they will continue to fight for the wellbeing of women and young families. 

Americans everywhere are watching, and as we look ahead to the midterm elections, voters will surely reflect on whether or not their elected representatives kept their promises. 

Naila Bolus is the Chief Executive Officer of Jumpstart for Young Children, a national early education organization that advances equitable learning outcomes for young children in underserved communities by recruiting and supporting caring adults to deliver high-quality programming to children and drive systems change through teaching, advocacy, and leadership.

Tags childcare early education Joe Biden Patty Murray Reconciliation

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File - A Chevrolet Bolt is displayed at the Philadelphia Auto Show, Jan. 27, 2023, in Philadelphia. Electric vehicles are far less reliable than gasoline-powered cars, trucks and SUVs, mainly because most automakers are still learning how to build a completely new power system, according to this year's auto reliability survey by Consumer Reports.(AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)
File - A Chevrolet Bolt is displayed at the Philadelphia Auto Show, Jan. 27, 2023, in Philadelphia. Electric vehicles are far less reliable than gasoline-powered cars, trucks and SUVs, mainly because most automakers are still learning how to build a completely new power system, according to this year's auto reliability survey by Consumer Reports.(AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

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In this photo released by the Governor of Sevastopol, Mikhail Razvozhayev telegram channel, a rescuer gestures as he helps people during an evacuation after storm and flooding in Sevastopol, Crimea, Monday, Nov. 27, 2023. A storm in the Black Sea took down power grids and left almost half a million people without power after it flooded roads, ripped up trees and damaged buildings in Crimea, Russian state news agency Tass said. (Governor of Sevastopol Mikhail Razvozhayev's telegram channel via AP)
In this photo released by the Governor of Sevastopol, Mikhail Razvozhayev telegram channel, a rescuer gestures as he helps people during an evacuation after storm and flooding in Sevastopol, Crimea, Monday, Nov. 27, 2023. A storm in the Black Sea took down power grids and left almost half a million people without power after it flooded roads, ripped up trees and damaged buildings in Crimea, Russian state news agency Tass said. (Governor of Sevastopol Mikhail Razvozhayev's telegram channel via AP)

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