Historic federal investments in child care play a key role in the proposed omnibus early childhood bill.
The House Early Childhood Finance and Policy Committee heard testimony Wednesday on a delete-all amendment to HF2230, following a walk-through of the bill Tuesday. The committee plans to review amendments and take action Thursday.
Sponsored by Rep. Dave Pinto (DFL-St. Paul), the bill seeks to address dual crises in the areas of early care and learning.
The first is that families struggle to find affordable care, due in part to the industry’s challenged economic model. Second, children who are racially and ethnically diverse or from low-income families consistently face opportunity and access gaps to quality early care and learning.
With an influx of nearly $550 million from the federal government, and a $50 million budget target in state General Fund dollars, Pinto said now is the time to significantly address both problems.
“It really is an extraordinary opportunity that we face,” he said. “I think it’s the first time in the history of our state Legislature that our committee received a public budget target.”
Investments in child care assistance and scholarships
The largest investment would appropriate $312.4 million in federal dollars during the 2022-23 biennium for monthly grants to child care and early learning providers to support the stability of the sector. It would require that providers direct 75% of grant funds to employees or other individuals providing care and education services.
The Child Care Assistance Program reimbursement rates could see a sizeable increase with a $348.5 million appropriation in federal funding over the next four fiscal years. Currently, rates are set at the 25th percentile of the 2018 child care provider rate survey. The proposal indicates that, dependent on federal funds and consistent with federal law, reimbursement rates cannot be less than the 50th percentile of the most recent survey. The funding would also be used to reprioritize the Basic Sliding Fee scale waitlist.
“The historic federal investment in child care over the next few years is an opportunity to get stuff done,” said Clare Sanford, director of government relations at New Horizon Academy, noting that this would be the most significant increase in CCAP rates in roughly 20 years.
“Moving rates to the 50th percentile is one of the fastest, most efficient ways to get direct child care resources flowing to families and providers in all 87 counties,” she said, “which will have significant positive effects on child care availability and accessibly statewide.”
Early learning scholarships would receive the largest state appropriation, at $36.5 million. In conjunction with the funding, the bill would modify recipient age requirements, and lift the cap on the amount of money the Department of Education can designate to Pathway II scholarships. These scholarships are awarded to families through a certain provider, as opposed to Pathway I scholarships that are awarded directly to the child and are portable from one provider to another.
Opponents of Pathway II scholarship expansion, including Ericca Maas, executive director of Close Gaps by 5, say this limits family choice, may not reach children in prioritized groups and can result in children losing their scholarships if they move.
“If our public policies, even one time, cause a child to lose services that’s flawed public policy,” she said.
Other notable state appropriations sought for the 2022-23 biennium include:
Other notable appropriations that would be made with federal funds during the 2022-23 biennium include:
Family Child Care Task Force recommendations
Several policy recommendations from the recently released Family Child Care Task Force report are included in the bill. The 2019 Legislature established the task force and directed it to study and make recommendations in eight areas related to family child care licensing, provider support and the Parent Aware program.
The bill includes measures that would require the Department of Human Services to develop a proposal for a one-stop regional assistance network to assist individuals with matters relating to starting or sustaining a licensed family child care program. It would also require the department to develop an optional orientation training for newly licensed family child care providers.
Other policy provisions would:
What’s in the bill?
The following are selected bills that have been incorporated in part or in whole into the omnibus early childhood bill: