By Melissa Mincic
It’s no secret that supporting healthy development from birth to age 5 is vitally important. What happens or doesn’t happen in these early years becomes the foundation for adult health and well-being.
Ensuring programs and services for young children and their families are adequately funded is one way legislators can improve child outcomes. To promote informed budgetary decisions, NCSL surveys and reports states’ appropriations in early care and education, including child care, prekindergarten, home visiting and other early childhood initiatives.
NCSL's newly released 2020 "Early Care and Education State Budget Actions" report provides state-level information on early childhood spending for the 24 states that completed the survey.
Overall appropriations, blending both federal and state dollars, for early care and education across responding states increased by 12.8% ($76,910,116) from FY 2019 to FY 2020. Appropriations increased across three of the four categories—child care, prekindergarten and home visiting—and remained stable for additional early childhood initiatives.
Child Care Is in Crisis
Prior to the pandemic, the child care field was already in crisis, characterized by a shortage of available and affordable high-quality care for families, coupled with care providers struggling to operate their programs as financially viable businesses.
COVID-19 has stressed the industry even further. For families, the same issues persist to a greater extent. For providers, the average cost of care has increased 47% for center-based child care and 70% for home-based child care during the pandemic. These increases are driven by reduced program capacity necessary to meet social distancing requirements and the purchase of additional cleaning supplies and personal protective equipment for caregivers.
The federal government recently provided states assistance to support early care and education through the CARES and HEROES Acts. Still, additional funding from state resources may be needed to continue serving children and families throughout and following the pandemic.
“In terms of public spending on human capital, early education and childcare have some of the best return on investment you can find," said Chuck Truesdell, fiscal analyst for the Kentucky Budget Review Subcommittee on Education. "As legislators look for ways to trim their budgets, it’s important to consider long-term benefits as well as immediate costs.”
While the stress COVID-19 has placed on the child care industry will affect families nationwide, low- and middle-income communities, families in rural areas and Black and Hispanic families are likely to experience even greater shortages in child care throughout the pandemic and beyond.
“Policymakers should consider the social, economic, health, and other goals for their states and what programs supported by research and evaluation can effectuate those goals," said Kelly Klundt, fiscal analyst for the New Mexico Joint Legislative Committee on Finance. "Maintaining funding for high-quality and evidence-based early childhood programs can improve long-term outcomes for children and families, benefiting a state through increased educational attainment, economic engagement, public safety, and many other positive outcomes.”
Tough Decisions Ahead for State Lawmakers
Many experts emphasize that stabilizing child care is essential for the country’s economic recovery, and NCSL’s Early Care and Education State Budget Actions reports can help inform related state budget decisions.
“Early childhood education is a key concern of our legislators, and this report is always a great place to start looking at other states’ policies that we may want to mimic or investigate further—particularly the states that share our demographics,” Truesdell said. State funding might currently be limited, which means that legislators may need to think ‘outside of the box’ to continue to meet children and families’ needs.
“The report has also created dialogue between New Mexico and other states about creative funding options and how New Mexico might benefit," Klundt added. "... I encourage states to use data and research to identify their community needs and how early childhood programs, like prekindergarten, home visiting, and child care, interrelate to meeting those needs including cost-benefit analysis when available."
Tell Us What You Think
To better support legislators, staff and other professionals working on their behalf, NCSL is seeking feedback on data included in its annual budget report. Please let us know how you’ve used data from the reports in the past or if you have suggestions for improving the report. You can provide your feedback by sending a message to email@example.com.
Melissa Mincic is a senior policy specialist in NCSL's Children and Families Program.