Written by Valora Washington, Ph.D.
The next Democratic presidential primary debate on Tuesday will have all 12 candidates face off on one stage for one night. It will be the biggest primary debate in American history.
Undoubtedly, the candidates will rehash reoccurring themes from health care and immigration to foreign policy and the economy. The discussion of these important issues to date has been thorough, with many candidates offering detailed proposals and plans.
Affordable college education also has received a lot of attention so far, with 16 candidates weighing in with their positions on how much, if any, the government should pay toward college expenses. However, those of us who work in early childhood education have been disappointed by the lack of meaningful conversation on the issue of affordable child care.
The child care crisis is a pressing national issue that demands action from all who care about children. During the past two rounds of debates, the majority of candidates voiced support of universal pre-K and affordable day care, but the discourse has failed to extend beyond political platitudes.
We need to value the youngest among us and invest in their futures now.
These early years are key to how a child’s future plays out, affecting everything from closing the achievement gap to improving health outcomes. Neuroscience has shown that a 3-year-old typically has twice as many synapses as an adult, and “the caliber of infants’ or toddlers’ daily interactions with an early childhood educator has the potential to impact their brain structure throughout their lifetime.”
Although we have ample research and data to support the need for high-quality early childhood education and child care, too many children do not have access to this critical resource at a pivotal moment in their lives, often as a result of household income and geography.
Low-income infants, toddlers and preschool-age children are affected the most, with fewer than one in five of this group enrolled in high-quality early childhood education.
A report from Child Care Aware of America, “The US and the High Cost of Child Care: 2018,” found that “in 28 states plus the District of Columbia, the annual cost for center-based infant care exceeded the cost of in-state tuition at a public university,” illustrating the cost challenges facing families across the country.
If policymakers — especially those running for president — focus on making early childhood education and child care both affordable and high quality, they could help alleviate the tremendous financial burden experienced by many low- and middle-income families.
At the same time, if they develop policies that require all education and care facilities to adhere to stringent standards for quality care, parents and caregivers could feel confident that their children are taught and cared for by professionals who have demonstrated competence in essential skills areas.
Taking such measures will provide more children access to the opportunities they need early on to succeed over the course of their lives — including pursuing higher education. Ultimately, this kind of commitment by state and federal policymakers will benefit communities and society as a whole.
As the conversations about our nation’s future continue, we all should demand that they include plans for funding and improving early childhood education. As we get deeper into primary season and the general election, hopefully we’ll hear more about candidates’ ideas for investing in our children — and in our future.