NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Federal Child Care and Preschool Grants Come with Strings Attached

January 2, 2015

President Obama's latest effort to improve childcare and preschool programs through federal grant programs brings with it a new set of problems, warns Katharine Stevens, research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

The Early Head Start-Child Care Partnerships and the government's Preschool Development Grants are both competitive programs that allow states, school districts and groups to compete for federal funding. The first program is aimed at increasing the number of high-quality child care programs for infants and toddlers, while the second program is about injecting more preschool programs into low-income areas.

What's the problem? Stevens says the programs come with a number of strings attached. The winners of the Child Care Partnerships will receive federal dollars to expand their Early Head Start programs through partnerships with child care centers. Those centers must agree to meet "high standards of quality." This means providers receiving funding must be monitored by the federal government and must meet 2,400 different performance standards. The standards, says Stevens, range from how to arrange cots in daycare centers to staff qualifications.

For the preschool program, 18 states won $250 million to develop "high quality preschools." Unfortunately, says Stevens, "high quality" is determined by such things as class size and the qualifications of staff, not by outcomes. It requires preschool teachers to have bachelor's degrees, which Stevens says is no indication of effectiveness and will require many aspiring teachers to take out loans in order to satisfy the requirement -- while others will forgo teaching altogether.

There are 300,000 preschool teachers today who lack college degrees, and Stevens calculates it would cost $23 billion for those teachers to attain them. She recommends implementing apprenticeship training models rather than college degree requirements in order to develop a stronger workforce, contending that training programs could increase the potential number of quality preschool teachers without the high cost of college tuition.

Source: Katharine B. Stevens, "Here Come the Child-Care Cops," Wall Street Journal, December 22, 2014. 


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