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  • Writer's pictureAndrea Molarius

A Closer Look at the American Families Plan: A Review of UPK and Child Care Should Head Start Pivot?

Recently, President Biden released the details of the American Families Plan which has the potential to impact Head Start and other early childhood programs. While all the details have not been released, it is important to note the plan’s call for a $200 billion investment in free universal pre-school (UPK) for all three and four-year olds. The plan includes specifics such as raising the salaries of employees in pre-k and Head Start programs to at least $15 per hour and staff with comparable qualifications will receive compensation to commensurate with that of kindergarten teachers. The administration has also turned their attention to child care programs. The proposal for child care support includes investments to ensure low and middle-income families pay no more than 7% of their income towards high-quality child care. The plan also proposals funding for child care providers to improve quality focusing on small class sizes, coaching, culturally and linguistically responsive environments, and inclusive programming. Another aspect of the plan addresses the wages of child care providers using the same approach as the administration is proposing for Head Start and UPK programs. All the changes and proposals may leave you wondering, “how will this impact my program”.

Because Head Start and Early Head Start programs are so diverse the impact will vary based on the types of funding models that are utilized in your program and based on which state where you are located and the design of the state preschool program. For example, programs housed in states where state preschool is already universal (Texas, Oklahoma, etc.) may only see nominal changes as the system is already in place. However, the UPK programs in these states will increasingly target 3-year olds which are often left unserved that make up a large part of Head Start enrollment. There may also be more alignment of the state preschool and Head Start programs, particularly since 20 states were awarded B-5 Preschool Development Grants designed specifically for this purpose. In states where preschool is administered in public schools that are not yet universal, changes may be more significant, particularly if funding models to blend and braid Head Start funds are not widely utilized.

What about Child Care?

Often child care is not considered to have a large impact on Head Start and other publicly funded programs. However, this may no longer be the case. For example, the American Families Plan utilizes Head Start as a framework for increasing quality so investments in child care, while not attending to the comprehensive services model, the investment does lend to a replication of Head Start’s best practices in terms of coaching, child / staff ratios, group sizes, and teacher qualifications.

While these changes may seem daunting it is important to take note of the following considerations:

  1. The American Families Plan must still follow the federal legislative process. The plan will be modified in many different ways before it is ultimately passed (if it is passed). Additionally, states will have different perspectives on the most pressing needs and early childhood may not be at the forefront of their concerns. Also, any plans will encounter barriers to ramp-up associated with the lack of an adequate early childhood workforce and appropriate facilities for children.

  2. Head Start is a flexible, transformative, and the premier program for children and families in the United States. In the past, Head Start and the voice of Head Start advocates have played a strong role in the design of any federal universal expansion of early care and education services. It is vital that we are involved in this discussion as a community and that legislators understand the impact of changes on your programs.

  3. There are still many gaps that impede systems change. Modifications to programs at the federal level occur incrementally which provides times for programs to adjust their program models to meet the needs of the community they serve. For example, in 2008 when most quality rating improvement systems were implemented it took a full five years before they were launched.

If you have more questions, we are here to help. Please feel free to visit Heartland’s website to download our American Families Plan Discussion Guide to explore your system and how these issues may impact your program.

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