Because New York mandates that its legislature approve enabling legislation even for local taxes, New York City’s new mayor, Bill deBlasio, may not actually get his tax on people with incomes over $500,000 per year to pay for universal pre-kindergarten and after-school programs for middle school students, but I rate the mayor high for honesty. New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo,on the other hand, says he will cut New York’s taxes, but at the same time the state will pay for any new pre-kindergarten program created by any city or town in New York. Governor Cuomo is engaging in today’s very popular game of playing pretend with the voters. deBlasio prefers honesty; he has even worked hard with helpful explanation—telling New Yorkers that his local plan will guarantee a stable funding stream for five years in contrast to funding that depends on the ups and downs of the state budgeting and appropriations process. What refreshing candor.
The Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), a Washington, D.C. organization that tracks the operation of programs to support the well-being of very young children once again last week exposed our popular game of pretending that the wonderful programs we talk about are actually being funded at a level that meets the purpose they were intended to serve. CLASP’s new report is about funding for child care assistance for poor families. These families include those who used to receive Aid to Families with Dependent Children but since 1997 are eligible only for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), which has a parental work requirement that pretty much ensures the children in those families need child care.
CLASP reports that combined federal and state spending on child care assistance—mostly through two programs, the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) and TANF)—has fallen to a 10-year low, falling from $12.9 billion in 2011 to $11.4 billion for 2012 (the latest year for which data is available). Child care funding from CCDBG is lower than at any time since 2002; TANF funding used for child care is at the lowest level since 1998.
Thirty-eight states spent less (when federal funding and state match funds are combined) on child care assistance in 2012 than they spent in 2011, and the amounts in some cases are stunning. Georgia cut spending on child care assistance by 42 percent, taking away child care assistance for 15,300 children, with North Dakota and South Carolina also cutting funding by more than 30 percent. Seven additional states also reduced funding by between 20 and 29 percent: California, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, and New York.
CLASP concludes, “In January 2014, Congress passed an omnibus spending bill that includes an increase of $154 million for CCDBG for 2014. This boost is extremely important, restoring the sequestration cuts and expanding access for children, but far greater investment—at the federal and state levels—will be needed to sufficiently reverse this troubling trend.”
It is important to note that the pre-kindergarten New York’s Mayor deBlasio champions is not the same as child care. But the children who desperately need enriched preschool as four-year-olds are likely to be the same children whose mothers need access to quality child care so that they can work when their children are younger. The achievement gap is formed all through these early years. One of the reasons our society struggles to understand and do something about the achievement gap is because we are so good at pretending that talking about the importance of early childhood enrichment is the same as paying for it. Mayor deBlasio is doing us all a favor by continuing to point out that public programs depend on an ample and stable supply of tax dollars.