Increasing federal investment in children’s early care and education to raise quality, access, and affordability



The core challenge our proposal seeks to address is how to ensure that every American family and child has access to high-quality, affordable early childhood care and education (ECE) services in a critical period of human development, breaking a shortage of investment in young children. America’s status quo asks the most of parents when they have the least. The public invests only about $1,500 per child annually in care and education in children’s first 5 years of life, when parents have the least earning and borrowing power, and then invests $12,800 per child annually for the next 13 years, when parents have more. Under this proposal, every family can choose to access affordable ECE services at qualified, high-quality center-, home-, and school-based providers using either a slot that providers have been contracted to provide or a scholarship. Families in poverty can choose Early Head Start and Head Start with the option of full-time, full-year services. Total family financial payments are capped and depend on family income-to-poverty ratio. The combination of family and public payments to providers will adjust to be sufficient to cover the local costs of efficiently producing high-quality care and services. Competition focuses in three domains: procurement competitions for local service contracts that reveal information about local production costs, competition between providers about how best to use a localized sufficient care-labor budget to attract, develop, motivate, and retain care talent, and competition between providers to serve local families better.


  • Acknowledgements and disclosures

    The work benefited greatly from research assistance by Moriah Macklin and feedback from participants at the Hamilton Project authors’ conference, Christa Anders, Jonathan Borowsky, Kraig Gratke, Rob Grunewald, Julie Kashen, Gayle Kelly, Greg Leiserson, Jonathan May, Taryn Morrissey, Kathryn Tout, Bobbie Weber and Matthew Wiswall.