While about 50% of our annual County budget supports k-12 education (during school hours) less than 1% goes to support children from birth to 5 and school age children before and after school. Many people think of child care and early childhood education as simply "babysitting" that should be wholly the responsibility of parents. Such attitudes ignore what we know about the vast amount of cognitive development that occurs and needs to be fostered in our children from birth to age 5. It also ignores the reality that child care is heavily regulated and is more expensive than many families can afford (even families with two parents working full time). Supporting child care is not a hand out or entitlement, it is an investment in our future and allows "parents to earn while their children learn" (from the MD Family Network). In fact, several studies have shown that for every dollar invested in child care and ECE, governments realize a return of $7-$12 (see, for example, the work of economist James Heckman). Two of the primary ways that the County supports child care and early childhood education is through Child Care in Public Space and the Working Parents Assistance Program. However, BOTH OF THESE SYSTEMS ARE BROKEN!
Back in 1989, the County had a Child Care Division that worked with the newly established Commission on Child Care to develop an Action Plan to put Montgomery County on the right track for child care. Unfortunately, this seems to have represented the high point of the efforts in this County to ensure quality child care was available and affordable. Since that time, the County's efforts have stagnated and deteriorated as child care became less and less of an economic priority. The Child Care Division no longer exists, the annual recommendations of the Commission go largely ignored, and resources to support child care have not kept pace with rising costs. Resources such as public space are not administered with any consistent set of policy objectives and the County has no strategy for child care and early education.
In his 2014 State of the Union, President Obama reminded us that there have been times in our history when we were more committed to quality child care and early education. He pointed out that child care and ECE is an economic national security issue and that it is not a "nice to have" but a "must have." We need to be working on a local level on these issues. Several jurisdictions (Miami-Dade County for example) have already begun to address this in significant ways. Montgomery County needs to start seeing this as an economic development issue, an education issue, and a quality of life issue that has been ignored for far too long. We need to make child care and early education priorities for our County.
In May of 2015, the Council passed a child care bill (13-15) to address some of these issues. The Bill called for the establishment of a child care policy officer within the County's Department of Health and Human Services who would be responsible for developing a strategic child care plan for the County. The Bill also attempted to begin the process of fixing the Child Care in Public Space issue (described below) by stating the County's preference for having all of CCIPS consolidated into HHS so that child care professionals could administer our public space resources consistent with the policy goals in the strategic plan. Amazingly, the County Executive vetoed the Child Care Bill because of the CCIPS provision. It was only the second time the Exec used this power during his three terms in office. It seemed clear that this was a case where politics trumped policy and that the Exec was seeking to protect the County bureaucracy and political patronage rather than trying to improve child care for the families of the County.
Child Care in Public Space
Child Care in Public Space is administered by several different county entities, each with different missions, timelines, procedures and policies. The majority of space is administered by real estate professionals rather than those with expertise in child care. This means that many of the public policy decisions the County is making about child care are not being driven by the goal of creating quality care for the children and families of our county. For more background on this issue, see the Commission's annual reports and these news articles:
Montgomery County Council approves child care provider selection process
Navarro, Riemer working toward larger changes by Lindsay A. Powers http://www.gazette.net/article/20150114/NEWS/150119934&template=gazette
The Commission attempted for many years to tackle some of these public space issues but was bounced around from one part of County Government to the next as no one entity or person seems to be responsible. It is easy to see why providers and parents have felt frustrated and excluded from the process. The Commission proposed several solutions, even drafting a piece of legislation to put the child care professionals in HHS in charge of setting the rules and procedures for all of the county entities to follow when administering child care in public space.
A County Work Group was formed to address this issue, but it was focused on simply codifying the existing rules for just one of the County entities that deals with public space. A more comprehensive solution was not even considered. Additionally, while the group purported to include child care representatives, it seemed more of window dressing as the vast majority of the work was done by the "internal work group."
The final proposed regulations were released to the Commission and the rest of the public just a week prior (and the proposed administrative procedures just two days prior) to the public hearing that was held on October 23. At that hearing, 18 providers and parents (and even a child who attends aftercare at one of the programs) testified and every single one was against the proposed regulations and asked for a better system.
The Council's HHS and ED Committees took up the issue on October 30. They asked for a number of changes that would improve the proposed regulations. However, the Committee seemed to take the view that before and after care in our public schools is simply a procurement of services. Providers and parents were hopeful as Councilmembers Riemer and Navarro released a memo shortly before the hearing asking for a Child Care Office to be created to oversee child care in public space and strengthen County child care policy. Unfortunately, as it would take time to create such an office, the HHS/ED Committee stuck with the status quo and recommended that CUPF remain in charge of the process. More surprisingly, there was some discussion that since this was a procurement, parents who use the provider in their children's schools should no longer be included on the selection committees.
The Regulation was rewritten in consideration of the Council's comments and was sent back to the Council on November 13. On November 19, the Commission on Child Care discussed the new version and recommended rejection.
The full Council convened on November 25 and voted to send the CCIPS regulation back to the County Executive to add a 1 year sunset provision. They passed the revised Regulation with the sunset provision on Tuesday, December 2, 2014. Councilmembers Navarro and Riemer pledged to work on legislation to create a new Division of Child Care within HHS to elevate its importance and consolidate the administration of child care in public space within this entity.
The CCIPS issue has been a catalyst for County leaders to take spotlight the fact that we have been neglecting child care and early education and that we need to be investing in this area to strengthen County families and better support child development and care. As a result of the discussions, Bill 13-15 passed in May of 2015. Although it was not able to address the substantive issues, it at least called for the creation of a Child Care Officer within HHS to develop a child care strategic plan for the County. It was also notable that Councilmembers Elrich and Berliner took interest in the CCIPS issue and were integral to getting the child care bill passed, especially the consolidation of CCIPS within HHS.
It was amazing that the County Executive vetoed the child care bill to protect the status quo. More amazingly, the day after the child care rally and public testimony, the County doubled the rent on some of the providers in public space who spoke out and testified. Much work remains to be done as interests in maintaining political status quo and possibly corrupt motives and behaviors seem to have become entrenched in the way the County currently operates.
Below are copies of the regulations, procedures, links to hearings, and correspondence from the Commission on this issue (in reverse chronological order).
Working Parents Assistance Program
The Working Parents Assistance Program was set up to support families to obtain child care while parents are working. However, while child care costs have continued to rise, income qualification levels and subsidy rates have stayed relatively flat. As a result, the subsidy award amounts are not enough to allow a family to afford quality child care (especially when you consider the low income a family needs to have in order to qualify for WPA).
Many of the County's families are struggling to afford rising child care costs but we are not even able to help those who need it most. These children arrive at kindergarten lagging behind their peers where we are spending even more resources to try and catch them up (the "achievement gap".)
A Work Group was formed to look into this problem, but it seemed County leaders did not want to hear that we needed to start devoting significantly more economic resources to fix WPA. The Work Group's original report is below. The Work Group was sent back to try and come up with "alternative" solutions that did not require added funding.
April 2014 WPA Work Group Report (revised report is due to Council Oct 1 2014)
A revised report was sent by County Executive Leggett to the Council on December 9, 2014. Like the original report, it recommended restructuring the WPA income qualifications and payment levels and boosting funding by about $5-10 million if all of the recommendations were implemented. It also recommended making EXCELS participation a requirement for any providers to accept families on subsidies. This is a concern as EXCELS increases costs of care and it could make it harder for families who qualify for WPA to find providers they can afford. There is a concern that we are confusing the minimum quality standards of child care licensing (Maryland has some of the highest licensing standards in the Country) with aspirational quality goals of EXCELS.
A Joint HHS/ED Committee of the County Council discussed the WPA Reports on February 12, 2015. Sadly, no action was taken. There was hope that it would be addressed in the County Executive's FY 2016 Budget, but it was not. It may come up again when the Council reviews the budget, but it is doubtful that any significant change will be made. The Commission has recommended that the Council and Executive at least fix the structural issues of WPA to change the income qualification tables and award amounts, even if it creates a waitlist. However, there seems little interest in this at this time.
County Office of Child Care, Early Care and Education
On March 12, 2015, in response to the issues raised about child care in public space and child care subsidies, Councilmember Riemer proposed legislation to raise child care and early education as higher County priorities by consolidating the County's efforts to support child care into one entity:
Office of Child Care Memo
Bill 13-15, Office of Child Care, Early Care and Education
The County's Commission on Child Care has supported this measure as a much needed step in the right direction:
March 23, 2015 Commission Letter to Council President Leventhal
Enthusiasm and excitement are building among County parents, providers and child care teachers that this could be the start of substantial steps to improve our system of child care and early education. Parents know that child care is expensive and many cannot afford quality, consistent care leaving them to make difficult choices about their careers & jobs, their family finances, and the experiences their children are getting during a critical period of development. Providers know that increasing regulatory requirements keep pushing up costs, that families cannot afford higher tuition, and that teachers and staff are not getting paid as professionals. Teachers know that they are being asked to increase their training and education levels, to take classes after working exhausting work weeks, and that they won't make enough to afford quality child care for their own children. All of these issues combine to put us on a downward and unsustainable path. There is hope that creating an Office of Child Care will help us alter the path before we reach a point of complete crisis.
A public hearing and rally occurred at 6:45pm on March 31 with the public testimony to the Council starting at 7:30pm. Bill 13-15 will then come before the HHS Committee of the County Council on April 17. After many revisions and a veto by the County Executive, Bill 13-15 was passed into law in May of 2015.
Testimony of Shaun Rose for 13-15
Read about this issue in the news:
Council looks at improving local child care http://www.thesentinel.com/mont/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=1784:council-looks-at-improving-local-child-care&Itemid=766