A Plan to Get Education Right from the Start

A Plan to Get Education Right From The Start

Investing in high-quality child care is one way we can help to ensure babies get what they need to grow and learn right from the start. Since more than 207,000 New Jersey babies whose parents are in the workforce spend a significant portion of their day in some form of child care, it is essential that the care they receive is provided in enriching and safe environments. However, quality child care for babies is expensive and in short supply, especially for low-wage workers who count on state child care subsidies to help pay for child care. In fact, only 27 percent of babies in New Jersey with working parents have access to licensed center-based care and the quality of these programs is largely unknown.

To help ensure that New Jersey’s youngest learners have access to safe, high-quality child care to support their healthy growth and development the State must:

1) Increase the child care subsidy rate for babies. Increase the child care subsidy rate for babies. New Jersey’s child care reimbursement rate for infants is the third lowest in the country; 42 percent below the federally recommended level for this age group.   The rate is especially low for babies 18 months and younger because licensing standards require one staff person for every four infants. The lower staff‐child ratios cost more to provide care, yet the rate does not reflect this difference. The recent (January 2018) increase to the infant- toddler subsidy reimbursement rate, amounting to less than $1.00 more a day for providers not in Grow NJ Kids, will do little to help them meet and sustain quality standards. An increase of $40 million is urgently needed to fix the subsidy reimbursement rate for infants to align with the increased costs associated with caring for babies.

2) Commit to improving child care quality. With the support of a federal Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge grant, New Jersey developed Grow NJ Kids, a five-tier child care quality rating and improvement system. Having such a system in place is essential to improving child care quality, however, the federal grant ends in December 2017 and plans to strengthen and sustain the program have not been publically discussed. Furthermore, Grow NJ Kids does not provide financial incentives linked to higher quality ratings to motivate providers to move up the quality ladder and serve subsidized children, critical to the long-term success of voluntary quality improvement systems.

The State must examine the viability of Grow NJ Kids and identify what resources are needed to support an effective child care quality rating and improvement system for New Jersey.

3) Ensure equal access to high‐quality infant-toddler care for all New Jersey children.  The availability of infant- toddler child care varies greatly across the state. Areas with limited or no access to infant-toddler child care, termed “infant-toddler child care deserts,” are most frequently found in rural and low- income communities. To increase the availability of quality infant-toddler child care in high need communities, the State should invest in expanding Early Head Start and/or funding high quality child care slots for infants and toddlers through contracts with selected centers.

4) Set higher educational requirements for caregivers of infants and toddlers.  The education and training of child care providers is one of the most important components of a quality child care setting. Currently, there are minimal educational requirements for caregivers of our youngest children. The state should require caregivers working with children under the age of three to have an Infant-Toddler Child Development Associate Credential (CDA). To make this possible, the state must assist low-wage child care staff by providing scholarships. In addition, funding is also needed for salary increases upon attainment to help retain staff once they are trained.

5) Develop long-term financing options to improve and sustain child care quality. The development of an effective system of supports to increase access to high-quality child care for all infants and toddlers will require innovative funding strategies. The State should review and identify all potentially available funding sources, as well as successful strategies utilized in other states, to create a long-term financing strategy for New Jersey.

6) Create a comprehensive, coordinated system of early care and education. Programs serving young children and their families are spread across at least twenty different state divisions and departments. Examining whether these programs can be organized more effectively to make better use of state resources is critical to ensuring a comprehensive, coordinated system of early care and education in New Jersey.