Name of Initiative: Build Back Better
Regions served: The United States
Population served: Families with children from birth-to-five and the early childhood workforce that serves them
The Biden Administration’s Build Back Better Act (BBB, H.R. 5376) is a sweeping piece of social infrastructure legislation that proposes allocating $400 billion to early childhood initiatives over 10 years. This historic investment in early childhood care and education (ECCE) is intended to increase the quality of programs, support affordability and accessibility for families, create universal child care (birth -2) and prekindergarten (Pre-K) for all 3- and 4-year-olds, and expand compensation and professional development for the early childhood workforce. BBB’s proposed early childhood legislation would build a comprehensive mixed-delivery system for children from birth to five to support families in accessing needed services, resources, and high-quality care and education that they deserve in order to thrive.
Child Care: Family Affordability and Accessibility
The BBB act would support all families with young children in accessing affordable high quality ECCE by drastically reducing the financial burden on families through an expanded child care subsidy system. Child care subsidies have previously been determined based on the Federal Poverty Level (FPL). Families in NYS qualify for these subsidies if their income is twice the FPL or below; however, due to limited funds, not all qualifying families in NYS receive this necessary financial support. To replace the FPL, BBB would instead utilize the State Median Income (SMI) which accounts for the cost of living when determining subsidy eligibility. Families making up to 250% of the SMI would be eligible for child care subsidies, significantly increasing the number of families who would have access to these essential resources. This proposed structure aims to expand parent access, affordability, and choice, which is a primary goal of the NYS Early Childhood Advisory Council (ECAC) demonstrated in the ECAC’s Strategic Plan (Objective 2-B).
This proposed expansion in eligibility would allow a NYS family of four earning up to $266,635 per year to qualify for subsidies. Presently, this same family would need to earn less than $53,000 per year to access child care subsidy. For context, this is below what two parents make working minimum wage jobs full time in NYS. Under BBB, family copayments would be determined on a sliding scale based on income level in relation to the SMI and eligibility would be phased in over a four-year period. Families whose income is below 75% of the SMI would have no copayment, while the copayments of families making between 150% and 250% of the SMI would be limited to 7% of the annual family income by 2025. As the average cost of child care in NYS is $15,394 (per year for an infant), this would significantly lower the financial burden for families. The chart below from the Hunt Institute shows the income requirements for families of four in NYS:
More child care capacity is needed to meet the needs of families. Increasing supply of child care to address the child care desert crisis is a top priority. Child care deserts refer to communities wherein the majority of families do not have access to child care due to the dearth of child care providers in their locality. 64% of New Yorkers were living in child care deserts in 2019 and this number has continued to climb due to pandemic related child care closures. To address this need, BBB’s national grant funding will be available to renovate facilities, build out capacity, and construct new child care centers during the first three-year transition period. New York State’s BBB funding allocation is projected as follows: FFY22: $1.11 billion, FFY23: $2.56 billion, FFY24: $1.95 billion, totaling at $4.6 billion. Starting in 2025, there will be entitlement funding with a 10% non-federal match from the State, while the federal government would pay 90%. The proposed funding structure, which may be modified to pass the legislation, meets the demand the ECAC identified in the Strategic Plan (Objective 8-F) to blend and braid all applicable funding to increase access for all families.
In addition to expanded access to child care, the BBB Act would provide Universal Prekindergarten for all three-and four-year-old children. States are in various stages of implementation. NYS has developed a robust Pre-K system serving many 4-year-olds and continues to expand programs serving 3-year-olds. The proposed BBB partnership between federal and state government would expand access to existing prekindergarten programs by infusing them with significantly more federal funding. States are required to document the equitable distribution of these resources and ensure that the expansion of Pre-K to all 3- and 4-year-old children will not compromise increased services to infants and toddlers or other existing programs, i.e. Head Start.
The BBB act is designed as a true mixed-delivery system, connecting all licensed public, private, and family child care programs who could be eligible to participate in this expanded universal prekindergarten model. This model aims to connect all Head Start, child care, and Pre-K programs, highlighting the fact that this is a cohesive, high-quality early childhood agenda. This focus on a mixed-delivery system for all children birth-to-five is identified in the ECAC’s Strategic Plan Goal 5: An increased number of successful partnerships will further develop the mixed-delivery system for high-quality early care and education programs.
Expanded Universal Prekindergarten funding would increase over a three-year period. Funds will be split by comparing the proportion of children under six in the state to the national population of children in the same age range. States will then divide a total of $4 billion, $6 billion, and $8 billion annually over the three-year transition period. Priority will be given to children in high-risk communities which include children experiencing homelessness, children with disabilities, children living in foster care, and children whose caregivers are over 65-years-old. Phase two of Pre-K expansion will begin in the fourth year when states will gradually pay 40% of the cost while the federal government pays the remaining 60%. States like NY, who have already made significant investments in Pre-K, can use 100% of that state funding as their non-federal match.
Quality Improvement: QUALITYstarsNY
Quality improvement is integral in the BBB plan. The primary goal of the ECCE provisions are to ensure there is an adequate supply of high-quality child care for all children and families. To qualify for BBB, States must attest that they have their own tiered Quality, Rating and Improvement Standards (QRIS) that are rigorous and developmentally appropriate. QUALITYstarsNY (QSNY), New York State’s QRIS system, meets the federal standards and will therefore be an essential partner in preparing for and implementing BBB. Federal requirements maintain that a QRIS system must include quality standards in a differentiated tiered system designed to measure quality; include a range of different child care settings (including family child care providers and child care centers), differentiated child care ages from birth to five (including mixed age settings); and meet national Head Start Program Performance Standards. QSNY excels in these areas while providing comprehensive resources and supports for programs to improve their score and overall quality.
QUALITYstarsNY was developed by the ECAC and is coordinated by the NY Early Childhood Professional Development Institute (PDI). QSNY has developed evidence-based tools outlining high-quality practices for ECCE programs that fall into the following categories: Learning Environment, Family Engagement, Leadership & Management, and Staff Qualifications & Experience. QSNY has a comprehensive Quality Improvement Planning process wherein Quality Improvement Specialists (QI Specialists) who are experts in early childhood education, child development and program administration, provide individualized guidance and support to ECCE providers and programs. Participating programs also have access to a range of resources, including classroom materials, professional development opportunities, and more, all aligned to an individualized quality improvement plan. This access supports programs in meeting the needs of the children in their care while giving programs the opportunity to improve their ratings throughout their participation with QSNY.
Child care and prekindergarten programs’ participation in QUALITYstarsNY, which has previously been voluntary, would become a requirement for BBB eligibility under the proposed plan. Expanding QSNY has been identified by the ECAC as a necessary step to improving the quality of New York’s ECCE system and is outlined in the Strategic Plan Goal 3: All New York State early childhood care and education programs are prepared to provide children and families with high quality settings, and have supportive services and resources in place to improve quality. Funding QSNY was prioritized in Objective 8-D: Develop and recommend strategies to fully fund QUALITYstarsNY across New York State; ensuring that all children have access to high quality care and education.
Workforce: Compensation and Qualifications
BBB identified increased workforce qualifications and compensation as key to providing high-quality child care and education. To finance this increase in professional development and wages, BBB proposes a subsidized program that draws upon a diverse array of funding strategies available to all licensed child care programs that are enrolled in their state’s QRIS system. Currently, states utilize a market rate survey which shows the going cost of child care, demonstrating what the market can bare rather than the true cost of providing high-quality ECCE. States then typically pay providers a significantly lower rate than this established market rate. This is a significant barrier both to providers and families, as parents have been left struggling to afford the cost of child care while providers attempt to deliver quality care with inadequate funding.
BBB reconstructs this system wherein states will determine rates using State Median Income cost estimation models, therefore taking into account costs of living (see P1: Child Care). This estimation model directly results in significantly higher compensation for the ECCE workforce. In order to equitably transform this system, states must develop cost modeling to determine the true cost of providing high-quality child care. Living wages for all ECCE staff must be included in this cost analysis. Pay parity, too, will be an essential component of restructuring wage systems. Lead teachers who have equivalent experience and credentials will be compensated commensurate to elementary school teachers. The ECAC identified fair compensation for the ECCE workforce as essential in ECAC Strategic Plan Objective 8-C and cost modeling has already been done to prepare for this change.
In order for child care providers to earn higher wages and pay parity to be implemented, education requirements for teachers will increase. Lead teachers will be required to earn a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education by the end of phase two which is complete at the end of year six. There will be opportunities to “grandfather in” teachers who have taught for 3-5 years in a Pre-K setting prior to the enactment of BBB. To meet this requirement, NYS will develop a plan to exponentially build the teacher workforce across the state to ensure that all ECCE providers have the opportunity to earn a bachelor’s degree in the ECCE field. Providing opportunities for the early childhood workforce serving children from birth, to earn degrees, credentials, and certifications is already underway in NYS. The NYS B5 Early Childhood CUNY/SUNY Workforce Scholarship supports career advancement. Additional opportunity includes strengthening New York’s birth to grade 2 teacher certification to ensure more focus on infants and toddlers.
The ECAC identified growing the workforce in the Strategic Plan as essential to building a coordinated 0-5 early childhood system (Goal 6). Key resources were developed to support the expansion of the workforce and ensure they are well prepared, compensated, and supported. The New York Works for Children Career Ladder was revised to expand career choice and include opportunities across NYS and local agencies and organizations (Strategic Plan Activity 6-B-3). This career ladder is a tool to support the professional growth of ECCE practitioners by defining each professional level based on experience, qualifications and credentials. Additionally, the ECAC developed a survey of NYS early childhood courses across the state to capture the landscape of teacher preparation, determine unmet need, and better prepare the current and future workforce serving young children (Strategic Plan activity 7-E-2). Lastly, the ECAC conducted a salary study of certified teachers using data from the Aspire Registry to identify innovative practices that have been used in NYS and elsewhere to increase compensation for the ECCE workforce (Strategic Plan Activity 8-C-5). These resources will be instrumental as NYS prepares to qualify for and implement BBB.
The BBB Act, which would transform the landscape of early childhood across the country, was passed by the House of Representatives on November 19th 2021 and is now awaiting the Senate’s vote. On December 11th, 2021, the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee (HELP) released proposed amendments to the bill as BBB remains under active deliberation. If enacted, the Federal Lead Agency will be the Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families in partnership with the Department of Education. The ECAC, along with partners across the state, is poised to develop and implement strategies to meet all federal eligibility requirements for BBB. The ECAC’s Mission, Vision, and Strategic Plan are aligned with the BBB act and we are confident that the resources we have developed will be instrumental in this historic investment in our future.
Hunt Institute Resources:
• State Median Income and Child Care Copayment Estimates Under Build Back Better
• Build Back Better Child Care Copayment Calculator
• Hunt Institute: Build Back Better Guide for Policymakers
• Hunt Institute Build Back Better Presentation