Jordan Soto Says Farewell

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By summer intern Jordan Soto

When I was young it was my dream to be the President of the United States. At five years old until around middle school I adamantly expressed my aspiration of becoming the leader of the free world to anyone who would listen and even to those who didn’t. Many thought this was silly but to me it was reality. Fortunately, I was blessed with parents who were able to provide many opportunities while always supporting me no matter what. I was always told that I could do anything I wanted and I believed it. Encouragement is important but without a viable pathway toward success, sadly it can futile.

I no longer wish to pursue that lofty career goal but I do, however, want to be an advocate promoting important issues that I am passionate about. One such issue is the increased need for quality affordable child care and early childhood education, especially for children from low-income families. Going into my third and final year of law school (thank goodness) I knew it was important to think about the trajectory of my career when determining where to spend my final summer before finding actual employment. Since the beginning of my law school career I have been interested in taking a somewhat different post-graduation route than many of my fellow classmates. I plan to employ the legal knowledge and skill I have attained to really help people in a meaningful way, but on a more holistic rather than individual level. Having a strong understanding of the law can be utilized as an essential tool in promoting important policy and social change benefiting those who need it most.

In my search for a summer internship, I knew that I wanted to get involved with an organization doing positive work at the national level. Opportunely, I connected with some great people at Child Care Aware® of America and shortly after, enthusiastically accepted a summer policy internship position. So this summer I have had the pleasure of learning from the policy team at CCAoA. I was not really sure what my experience would be like but what I did know was that this organization is the nation’s leading voice on child care so I was quite confident that it would be a positive one.

I have learned so much working with amazing, intelligent and passionate individuals. Further, I truly believe that the work done at Child Care Aware® of America is not only vital to the success of children but to our country as a whole. Early childhood education and child care provide an atmosphere that facilitates strong early development and promotes school readiness. These factors greatly increase children’s chances of success and open pathways that may have been otherwise unavailable. When children get a good start they are more likely to graduate high school, go to college and stay out of the juvenile justice system. This experience taught me what it means to be a strong advocate and promote policies that could have a huge impact on our most vulnerable citizens. Quality affordable child care is important but I have realized it is even more than that, it is a necessity.

The unfortunate reality is that many children do not have the access, means or support that I did growing up. Many children may never have the opportunity or ability to pursue their dreams. Without these services many families face significant roadblocks to prosperity and are simply unable to pull themselves out of the cycle of poverty. These facts are unjust and unfair. Every child in this country should have access to opportunities, regardless of background or socioeconomic status. Every child deserves a chance to dream BIG and find success. Early childhood education and child care is the answer and I have learned what part I can play in making that idea a reality.

Thank you, Child Care Aware® of America for solidifying what is important to me as an individual and as a young professional. I have learned so much about myself, policy, and the importance of being an advocate. I will be leaving this experience with a profound desire to be a part of something much bigger than me. For all these things and more, this was a remarkable and irreplaceable experience.

Makala Graves Says Farewell

MakalaGravesBy Summer Intern Makala Graves

For most college students the arrival of summer means relaxation, the stressful all night studying comes to a cease, and they spend their time poolside, soaking up the sun, and the thought of work or school does not cross their mind until the fall semester comes back around.

However, for some students, like myself, both anxious and indecisive, and looking to gain real-world experience, we spent our summer interning.

This summer, I had the opportunity to intern in the Nation’s capital, Washington, D.C. (Well, Arlington, Virginia…still pretty close) with Child Care Aware® of America’s (CCAoA) policy team, and I can honestly say that my experience has been nothing less the phenomenal!

As long as I can remember, my parents have drilled the importance of my future into my brain, and as a rising junior in college it is finally starting to stick. My past years of college have been filled with trying and getting to know different fields of study, and liking but never loving really any of them. This past semester, after taking political science and social work classes it all clicked for me, I realized I wanted to advocate but had no idea how to mix advocating with my love of politics and public relations. This dilemma motivated my search to find an internship where I could hone both of these interests, and that’s when I came across Child Care Aware® of America.

After interviewing with Child Care Aware® of America, I knew this is exactly where I needed to be. I cannot describe my first week in the office as anything less fascinating. My first day was spent on Capitol Hill where I got to listen to important briefings and government issues, and report back to my bosses, and I can say every day following has been just as great as the first.

I am very proud and thankful to be a part of it what Child Care Aware® of America is doing. The work done at CCAoA is extremely fulfilling, everyone is extremely passionate about their work here, and as an intern it is only motivation to work harder. During this summer internship, I have been given the opportunity to work on government documents, advocate for the importance of affordable and quality child care for families, and enjoy some of the best food places in Arlington with intern lunches!

What I have learned from my summer with Child Care Aware® of America is invaluable – this internship has turned out to be one of the best summers of my life, and has assured me that this is the work I want to do.

I am extremely thankful to Child Care Aware® of America, especially the policy team, for giving me such a wonderful experience. What I learned here will stick with me for a lifetime!

Teaching Children Cultural Competence in Early Childhood Education

512px-Multiculturalism_squareBy Summer Intern Makala Graves

One of the most pressing issues that families and educators both face today is raising children to be both culturally competent and sensitive to their environment from a young age. It is vital that children learn how to respect and accept people whose culture and background differ from their own. Without implementing these values into our children, we put them at risk of growing up into adults who contribute to the problems brought on by the discrimination in society. It is the responsibility of educators and parents to help prepare children at an early age with the knowledge, attitude, and skills to be able to excel in our complex and diverse world.

The infrastructure of self-awareness begins at the infant and toddler stages, it is during this time period that children begin to understand who they are. In fact, according to Scan Virginia, children as young as two, start to become aware of differences such as gender, ethnicity, and disability. It is also during this time of adolescence that children become sensitive to both the negative and positive attitudes and biases attached to identity as reflected by their family, school, community, or just the world in general.

According to UUA’s general assembly of 2012, it is by the age of 9, that children’s cultural attitudes are set in, and tend to stay constant, unless the child is faced with a life changing event. This is why it is imperative to teach children cultural competence at ages early as preschool.

The task and responsibility of teaching cultural competence to preschool aged children is one that many may find burdensome. However, it can be quite straight forward. With young children, educators and families can start with activities such as doing skin color match-ups with flesh colored crayons, doing thumbprints to show the similarities and differences among other children, or even having children explain to each other their family’s traditions. The best place to implement these activities would be in a place that is diverse, such as a classroom. When children are taught to understand these cultural differences, they are more likely to accept them.

To ensure, early education facilities are taking the necessary steps to promote cultural competence, regardless of the activities one chooses to do that, the reauthorization of the Child Care and Development Block grant (CCDBG) will provide training to parents and educators to prepare them with the necessary tools to provide high quality education on cultural diversity among other things. With the collaboration of educators and families, we can teach children cultural competence and acceptance, and shape them to be the future leaders this community needs.

Preschoolers in a classroom with their teacher.

Emma Boelter Says Farewell

EmmaBy Summer Intern, Emma Boelter

Over the past two months working with CCAoA as a policy and research intern I have explored a variety of topics and gained so much valuable experience –I’ve learned about the importance of accessible and affordable child care, how to advocate for positive policy change, how to analyze legislative language, and much more. The first day of my internship I felt nervous and uncertain of what to expect. Is my outfit actually business casual? Is this the correct building? What is a CCDBG? Am I asking too many questions? Thankfully, I was given the first few days to acclimate to my new environment. I did A LOT of reading and research.

This thorough research provided me with a solid basis that prepared me for several projects throughout my remaining weeks. I worked on a variety of projects including updating a database for state child care requirements, attending webinars, working with social media, and creating advocacy tool kits.

I also had the opportunity to attend briefings and hearings on the Hill, which was my favorite aspect of my internship program. I enjoyed getting an inside look as to how policy gets discussed and passed through our government. The experience has encouraged me to step up my advocacy efforts and to get more involved with civil discourse in the future.

One of my favorite briefings was hosted by Save the Children, and the conversation centered around disaster preparedness policies for children, with a focus on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. As a student at Tulane University, which is located in the city of New Orleans, I found this discussion to be particularly relevant and enlightening.

The speakers discussed that while progress has been made in the implementation of appropriate and effective disaster plans for children across the nation, significant amounts of work still remain to be accomplished. This briefing left me feeling inspired to get involved with this issue and I plan to do so once I return to New Orleans next semester.

More than anything, my time spent at CCAoA has reinforced the idea that whatever my future career endeavors turn out to be, I feel compelled to work with an organization that strives to improve the well-being of our country. I’m inspired by the determination and passion exhibited by the policy team each day at CCAoA, and admire their dedication toward a cause they truly believe in. I feel fortunate to have had an internship here this summer and look forward to becoming a more active advocate for children’s’ rights and other public policy that concerns the well-being and prosperity of all Americans.

Reauthorization of the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP)

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The reauthorization of the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) has a congressional Fall deadline. The CACFP is a federal program serving more than 3 million children in child care, Head Start, and after school programs across the country. With more science and academic reports explaining the benefits of healthy diets for kids, Congress will need to appropriately fund the program in order to ensure access to quality and nutritious foods for all children.

Today, Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) introduced the ‘Access to Healthy Food for Young Children Act for 2015’ which would reduce the CACFP area eligibility from 50 percent to 40 percent to streamline access and expand eligibility to include more low-income children, give child care centers and family child care centers with the option of serving a reimbursable third meal, and increase the reimbursement rate for CACFP sponsoring organizations.

The science is there and statistics have proven that healthy, nutritious meals directly impact children’s ability to learn, cognitive development, physical development, emotions and social skills.

As child care providers, educators and community leaders we would encourage you to get involved by asking your member of Congress to support the Access to Healthy Food for Young Children Act for 2015.

Learn more about the Access to Healthy Food for Young Children Act for 2015 and share with your friends, family and colleagues.

Want to take action? FRAC has a toolkit you can use to schedule a visit for your member of Congress at a local CACFP site near you. Representatives are more likely to support and fund these programs if they see the work they do up close!

Senate Approves Bi-Partisan Overhaul of No Child Left Behind

Earlier today, the Senate approved the “Every Child Achieves Act” (S. 1177) with an 81-17 vote. S. 1177 would replace No Child Left Behind and would retain some features of the current law, including standardized testing, but overall S. 1177 would give more flexibility to states and reduce the Federal government’s role in the nation’s education policy.

The “Every Child Achieves Act” includes a proposal to authorize a new early education grant to states to improve early childhood education coordination, quality, and access, and would specifically target resources for low- and moderate-income families.  Additionally, S. 117 creates a new literacy program that includes a set-aside for early learning initiatives.

Shortly before the Senate approved the bill, Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) offered an amendment authorizing the Preschool Development Grants program, as well as the “Strong Start for America’s Children Act.”  The amendment failed on a 45-52 vote.

At this time, it’s unclear what the next steps are with regards to sending a final bill to President Obama.  boypaintingWhile the Senate bill represents a strong, bi-partisan agreement, the House bill, which barely passed last week, is much different and proposes far more drastic changes to the country’s K-12 education policy.  The House version, known as the “Student Success Act,” goes much further in eliminating the Federal government’s role in holding schools accountable, especially for low-income districts.

While President Obama has expressed concerns about the Senate-passed measure, he has threatened to veto the House version.  However, this should not be interpreted that the President would sign S. 1177.

Congressional leaders could reach a compromise between the House and Senate bills, but it seems very unlikely that a majority of House Republicans would support this.  Therefore, House Speaker, John Boehner (R-OH), would need the support of nearly the entire Democratic caucus and some Republicans to approve such a bill.  However, this would be a violation of the “Hastert Rule,” which is the legislating principle that any bill should be able to pass with a House Republican majority.  Even if a compromise bill clears the House, it could face the threat of a filibuster in the Senate.

We will continue to monitor this and keep you updated.

Senate to Begin Debating Bi-Partisan Overhaul of ESEA This Week

Tomorrow, the Senate will begin deliberating S. 1177, the “Every Child Achieves Act of 2015,” which would reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), something Congress has not done since 2001. The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee unanimously approved this bill on April 16.

ESEA oversees the nation’s K-12 policy, as well as promotes early learning initiatives. S. 1177 proposes significant changes to the current law, including the creation of a new early education grant to states to improve early childhood education coordination, quality, and access, and would specifically target resources for low- and moderate-income families. In addition, the current bill creates a new literacy program with a set-aside for early learning, and clarifies existing use of early education funds under Title I.

During consideration of S. 1177 on the Senate floor, Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) will offer an amendment to senate-vote-freedom-act.sithe bill that would authorize and fund the Preschool Development Grant program, and the “Strong Start for America’s Children Act of 2015” (H.R. 2411/ S. 1380).  Click here for more information on the Senator’s amendment, as well as here to see how each state would financially benefit from it. You can read more about the “Strong Start for America’s Children Act of 2015” here.

A final vote on S. 1177 may take several weeks due to the number of amendments that will be considered.  While the White House has not publicly weighed in on S. 1177, Arne Duncan, Secretary of the Department of Education, “applauded” the Senate bill shortly after it was approved by the HELP Committee in April.  However, President Obama has threatened to veto the House version of this legislation, the “Student Success Act,” (H.R. 5), which was approved by the House Education and the Workforce Committee in February.

Child Care and ECD Update: A Major Fight Looms Over Funding for Next Year

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This week, both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees approved their FY 2016 Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education spending measures, which is the legislation that provides annual funding for child care and early child development programs. As expected, both committees rejected the President’s major child care proposals.

The Senate bill includes a $150 million increase for the Child Care and Development Block Grant, which is to be dedicated towards costs associated with the new requirements under the 2014 law. The House version of this bill, which the Appropriations Committee approved on June 24, does not propose any increase in CCDBG funding for next year. However, both the House and Senate versions proposed increases for Head Start, including $192 million in the House and $100 million in the Senate. The increased funding would be dedicated towards expanding the Early Head Start-Child Care Partnership Program.

While it may come as welcoming news that child care and early child development programs will likely receive an increase in funds next year, it’s important to point out that neither bill would end the sequester or raise the budget caps established in the FY 2016 Congressional Budget Resolution.  Therefore, a considerable number of children could lose access to these programs if Congress does not restore funding before completing a final bill. In addition, both chambers proposed deep cuts to critical health and education programs, and eliminated certain programs including Preschool Development Grants.

The next steps on this legislation is unclear, but with President Obama likely vetoing any bill that doesn’t restore at least some of the proposed spending cuts, it’s next to impossible that an agreement between Congress and the White House will be reached by October 1, 2015.

We will keep you updated, and you can view the House bill here, and the details of the Senate bill here.

Summer Meals Act of 2015

Children enjoy a nutritious summer meal served at the Sandston Woods Apartment Complex in Henrico County, VA. Photo by USDA.gov.

Children enjoy a nutritious summer meal served at the Sandston Woods Apartment Complex in Henrico County, VA. Photo by USDA.gov.

By Jordan Soto, Summer Policy Intern

Earlier this week, the sponsors of the “Summer Meals Act of 2015” (HR 1728/ S. 613) held a briefing on Capitol Hill.

This legislation is a bipartisan and bicameral measure focused on the improvement and expansion of Summer Nutrition Programs. The Senate version is sponsored by Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and the House version (H.R. 1728) is sponsored by Representatives Don Young (R-AK) and Rick Larsen (D-WA).

Summer Nutrition Programs help provide children from low-income families, relying on low cost or free meals during the school year with access to healthy and nutritious meals during summer months as well. This legislation is essential to children’s learning, development and health. These programs are implemented in many ways such as child care facilities.

The Summer Meals Act of 2015 focuses on improving Summer Nutrition Programs in four major ways. First, it proposes to change the eligibility standard. Currently, a site must have 50% of the children within the area eligible for low-cost or free meals in order to qualify for Summer Nutrition Programs. Under this proposal this standard would be lowered, making the requirement only 40% of children. The administrative process will be simplified enabling sponsors to provide children with meals year-round without having to apply separately to operate during the summer. At this time, agencies are providing children with only two meals per day but this proposal would increase that to three meals per day. Finally, it proposes making transportation grants available to sites enabling them to reach children in under served areas.

Not only do these programs provide children with the healthy meals they need but they also create an arena for continuous learning and help prevent the loss of learning over the summer. Further, these sites create an environment that will guide at-risk youth on a path toward success and help to pull them out of the cycle of poverty.

For more information on this bill, click here.

Congress Introduces the “Strong Start for America’s Children Act of 2015”

The bi-partisan Strong Start for America’s Children Act of 2015, was introduced today by Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), and Congressmen Bobby Scott (D-VA), and Richard Hanna (R-NY).

Millions of young children from low-and moderate-income families lack access to high-quality, affordable preschool programs. Research has proven that children who attend these programs are more likely to graduate from high school and succeed in their adult lives. The Strong Start for America’s Children Act proposes a 10-year Federal-state partnership to increase access and expand quality early learning opportunities for children ages birth to five.

The legislation includes four key sections: Prekindergarten Access, Early Learning Quality Partnerships, Children with Disabilities, and the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program.

To help understand how the legislation would impact different areas of the early childhood landscape, the following summarizes each section and its implications.

Prekindergarten Access

The legislation would fund preschool for four-year old children from families earning below 200% of the Federal Poverty Line (FPL), and encourage states to spend their own funds to support preschool for young children with family incomes above that income level.

Some of the highlights include:DSC08585

    • Requiring alignment of early learning standards with the State’s K-12 system that are “developmentally-appropriate, and culturally and linguistically appropriate and address all the domains of school-readiness.”
    • Mixed-delivery eligibility for grants to ensure that states have the maximum flexibility in determining how the preschool grants could be administered to best fit their communities.
    • Requiring establishment of a State Early Childhood Education and Care Council, where it doesn’t currently exist.
    • Improving coordination and participation with other federally-funded early childhood programs including, CCDBG, IDEA part C, and MIECHV.
    • Implementing performance measures and targets designed to increase school readiness, quality programs available, and children in those programs.
    • 10-year Match requirement from states, transitioning from 10% in the first year, to an equal share of the federal amount in the program’s eighth and following years. States do have options to participate in a reduce match rate if they qualify.
    • Prekindergarten Development Grants – For states not currently eligible for the formulaic preschool grants (described above), states could receive grants to help increase their ability to build the infrastructure and workforce and instill quality measures necessary to qualify for the federal formulaic prekindergarten grants in future years.
    • The Department of Health and Human Services would be tasked with developing a process for converting Head Start programs (that currently serve four-year olds) to Early Head Start programs serving three-year olds and infants/toddlers.

Early Learning Quality Partnerships

The legislation would fund the establishment and/or expansion of partnerships between Early Head Start programs and child care providers to help raise the quality of “coordinated, comprehensive services for infants and toddlers and children through age three.”

Some of the highlights include:

  • $1.4 billion in competitive grants for Early Head Start programs to partner with center-based or family child care programs, particularly those that receive federal support through CCDBG and agree to meet Early Head Start program performance standards.
  • Priority of grants given to applicants that create “strong” alignment with MIECHV, CCDBG, and state-funded programs to develop comprehensive birth-to-school services for families.
  • Early Head Start programs receiving grants under this initiative would enter into a “contractual relationship” with child care providers to:
    • Expand center-based or family child care programs through financial support.
    • Provide training, technical assistance, and support to provider to meet higher quality measures.
    • Blend funds with CCDBG to develop “high-quality child care, for a full-day” that meets the Early Head Start standards.

Children With Disabilities

The bill amends the Individuals with Disabilities Act by increasing funding for infants and toddlers with disabilities and preschool grants for children with disabilities.

Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program

The legislation would provide a “Sense of the Senate” and a “Sense of the House of the Representatives” that the MIECHV program has shown significant progress in the improving the development of children from low-income families.  A “Sense of the Congress (or of each chamber)” is simply the formal expression of opinion about subjects of current national interest.  In other words, while the rest of the legislation would develop, implement, or expand existing programs, this section would clarify the belief of the respective chambers that the MIECHV program has seen significant success in its work and that the chambers believe that Congress should continue to provide the resources necessary for the program.

MIECHV is currently funded through March 31, 2017.

Click here to read more about the legislation.