WASHINGTON – The First Five Years Fund (FFYF) released a memo authored by Democratic strategist Stacy Kerr and Republican strategist Michael Steel — well-known operatives with decades of high-level political experience in Washington — that outlines the unique political opportunity for the new Congress and the incoming Biden Administration around child care and early learning, which remains overwhelmingly bipartisan in an otherwise politically divided climate.
Over the last decade federal early learning and care programs have received historic funding increases and broad support at the state and local level. Meanwhile, there has never been more support for this issue among voters from every political background, making it a rare bipartisan issue for Congress and the Administration to prioritize. In the memo, Kerr and Steel make the point that Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike can harness this broad support and focus their attention on investing in early learning and care programs with little political downside. Given their experience and assessment of the current political climate, the memo comes to the conclusion that achieving meaningful progress on this issue, or any other major legislative accomplishment in the coming years, will require leveraging partnerships across the aisle, building from existing support among voters and lawmakers alike, and speaking about issues that matter in a way that resonates with all voters.
On day one in office, President Biden and leaders in Congress will face one of the most daunting challenges in our lifetime—picking up the pieces and rebuilding our country in the face of intense partisanship as the health and economic crisis brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic continues. This challenge is further complicated by a country that is bitterly divided over who should lead us into the next generation, and citizens who are skeptical of whether unity across party lines is possible.
But this great challenge also presents the opportunity for political leaders to restore Americans’ faith that government can put partisan politics aside in order to address the kitchen table issues that create meaningful, lasting change for working families. One issue that falls squarely at the nexus of bipartisan agreement and importance to our economy in the short- and long-term is one that is close to our hearts: early childhood education and care.
With the Senate runoff election in Georgia establishing an equally split Senate, the president and congressional leaders are charged with finding compromise. As political veterans from either side of the aisle, we have a unique understanding of how a new president facing bitter partisanship and a thin majority in Congress will look to build unity and make progress for American families. Taking bipartisan action to ensure more families can access affordable, quality child care and early learning is a no brainer for President Biden and Democrats and Republicans alike in Congress.
Over the past decade, there has been steady bipartisan progress at all levels of government to expand access to high-quality early learning and care—especially for families living in poverty. That’s because there is broad consensus among academics, experts, businesses, and voters that all families should have high-quality opportunities for their children from birth through age five.
This comes as business leaders and economists continue to sound the alarm that the pandemic—and the child care crisis it worsened—is threatening decades of progress to establish equal footing for women in the workforce.
FFYF is committed to working with the Biden administration, bipartisan leaders in Congress, and diverse stakeholders across the country to find solutions to the challenges facing our child care providers and working families and ensure young children have access to high-quality, affordable early learning and care opportunities. Which is why, in addition to this bipartisan memo, FFYF will continue releasing valuable resources and information showcasing the policy and political opportunities for child care and early learning as part of our Blueprint for Progress.
There is a clear link between our nation’s economic wellbeing and access to high-quality, affordable child care, making federal investments in our child care system and early learning programs critical. The federal government provides the foundation for state and local early childhood programs, allocating nearly $22.5 billion in federal funds to programs that support the care and education of children from birth through age five. Federal funds don’t just finance direct early learning services for children and families; they also fund infrastructure that supports quality and delivery of local, state, and privately funded early childhood programs. This infrastructure provides a flexible platform to sustain and foster state early care and education systems in the face of public health and economic challenges.
However, the early learning and care infrastructure is crumbling under the weight of the pandemic, and it has become clear that even before the pandemic, the foundation of the early learning and care landscape was not strong enough. Without a strong child care and early learning system that meets the needs of all families, our economic recovery will be incomplete. Intervention and sustained support from Congress and the Administration for the child care industry and federal early learning programs will ensure families can find and afford high-quality care and providers will not be forced to close their doors for good. Ultimately, without that support, we could lose nearly half of the nation’s child care supply, 4.5 million spots, could disappear.
FFYF’s Blueprint for Progress follows up our efforts to elevate early learning and care as a pivotal campaign issue by highlighting the policy and political opportunities for candidates on both sides of the aisle. This work resulted in historic recognition for the importance of early learning and care and put these issues on the national stage like never before. As the nation’s leading federal early learning and care advocacy organization, FFYF’s efforts included providing extensive briefing resources for presidential campaigns, which were also available to candidates seeking other offices, including national polling and messaging research, policy guidance, and more. FFYF also developed tools for voters to use when engaging with candidates for office. In addition, the organization undertook an extensive earned and paid media effort to showcase the widespread support for child care and to reinforce the long history of bipartisan achievement at all levels of government.
About the authors:
Stacy Kerr is a strategic communications expert with decades of experience as a trusted advisor to CEOs, global executives, and elected officials, including Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Prior to joining Hamilton Place Strategies, Kerr spent 15 years working in national politics and served as the Chief Communications Officer for Georgetown University.
After nearly two decades working in journalism, on Capitol Hill and for political campaigns, Michael Steel joined Hamilton Place Strategies in 2016, where he advises a range of clients on strategic communications and public policy. Prior to this, Steel served as senior policy and communications advisor for Governor Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign and press secretary for Speaker of the House John Boehner.
The First Five Years Fund is the leading bipartisan federal advocacy organization working to ensure all children from birth through age five have equal access to affordable, comprehensive, high-quality care and education to support their healthy development and help them achieve their full potential in school and life. FFYF seeks to expand federal support for all early learning and care opportunities that are high-quality and focused first on serving those children most-at-risk. http://www.ffyf.org