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.

5 Tips for Recess SUCCESS!

It’s that time of year again–August recess! Congress has adjourned for the month of August and will not be back in session until September 9. During their month-long recess, many Members take the opportunity to re-engage with their community and the constituents they serve. This is a perfect opportunity for you to foster and cultivate those very important relationships with your Senators and Representative, as well as their key staff. You want them to know who you are and what issues you care about –early learning, child care, resource and referral services, etc., and how those issues are affecting your local community and your state.

In order to ensure you get the most out of your elected officials this August, we put together our top 5 tips for recess success:

1. Schedule a visit/meeting.  Go to our congressional directory to look up the contact information for your Member’s district office(s).  Call the office or send an email requesting a meeting, and be sure to briefly mention the purpose of the meeting.

2. Do your research before your meeting.  You can make the most of your meeting time by being prepared and knowing your audience.  Learn about your Member of Congress: is she/he a Democrat or a Republican? Is your Member on Facebook or Twitter? What committees is she/he on? Do those committees work on child care issues?  You should also know whether the Member supports an increased investment in child care and early learning (and has voted accordingly). Visit the Core Issues page to get background on the issues.

capitolnick3. Invite your elected officials to your child care program. Reach out to district staff or ask during a meeting with staff or your Member if they would like to visit your child care program: if you’re representing a child care resource and referral agency, you may have a recommendation of a place to visit. This is a great way for Members to connect what you do with what children need, and why investments in child care and early learning programs are so important. Members and their staff get a firsthand look at why quality child care is a necessity for any thriving community.

4. Attend scheduled town halls. Another great way to engage with your elected officials during recess is to attend a town hall meeting (or two!).  Check your policymaker’s website to find out the date and location of any upcoming town hall meetings. In preparation for the meeting, write down–at most–two questions: you will not have a lot of time so make sure your questions are specific and straight to the point.  Read our town hall tips sheet for more information.

5. Follow up. If you were able to get a meeting, attend a town hall, and/or host a Member at your early learning program, send a thank you note to your Member and their staff.  Thank them for taking the time out to meet with you/have the town hall meeting/visit your program, and gently remind them why they should continue to support child care. Be sure to follow up on any requests you made at the meeting as well as any information they may have asked for.  A few words of appreciation will have a lasting impact on your relationship with your elected officials and your long term advocacy efforts.

Good luck and keep us posted on how your recess efforts are going.  Let us know how we can help. We have plenty of one pagers, background information and talking points to help you with your recess SUCCESS!