After troubling trends emerged in education, including early childhood education, from prolonged school closures during the worst of the pandemic, this education sector is bouncing back – and state legislatures are helping.
Enrollment figures have begun climbing again for pre-K and kindergarten children, following the dramatic downturns during the Covid-19 pandemic. Statistics put the national pre-K level enrollment at 47 percent with individual states clocking in at totals ranging from 31 to 63 percent.
Despite math and literacy rates being lower overall from pre-pandemic levels, according to data from the National Assessment of Education Progress second and third-grade literacy is improving from 2021. However, compared to the winter of 2020, in the winter of 2022 nine-year-olds are down seven percent in math and five percent in reading, with students of color registering larger drops. These statistics reflect interrupted instruction, like school closures or learning-restricting protocols brought on by the pandemic.
Fortunately, early childhood care and education are two education areas that saw a lot of action in state legislatures in 2022. Lawmakers at the state level spent most of last year supporting both young students and the teaching workforce through various bills. Almost 350 bills were introduced and 65 enacted in 30 states.
Here is a short review of some of the key legislation that passed during the past calendar year.
Workforce and Training Opportunities
With a total of 31 states and D.C. passing a total of 85 bills, those responsible for teaching young children are getting recognized for their work. Part of the bills passed intends to engage previously underrepresented populations into the education workforce,
Tax Credits and Deductions
In some states tax credits relative to children continue, such as a 10-year refundable state child tax credit in New Mexico, and a non-refundable state-earned income tax credit in Utah.
Administration and Councils
To focus on improving childhood education at the administrative level, 25 states passed 61 bills under the heading of Administration and Councils. For example, under the heading of Committees, Studies, and Task Forces, Maine established an advisory committee to implement a strategic plan to curb child hunger in the state by the year 2030. In the District of Columbia, a study to examine the direct cash assistance program, which often aids poor families as they struggle to find the right programs for their young children, was created.
A growing need in education, financial literacy is now being required for high schools in Florida, Michigan, and Georgia, where students must earn at least a half credit in financial literacy for high school graduation requirements. And in Arizona, a community treatment program will assist incarcerated women and their children with financial literacy development.
Several trends surfaced from the 2022 legislative sessions that focused on early childhood, child care centers, and early education. Here is a look at a few of the most notable ones.
Child Care Subsidies and Quality
Eighty bills enacted in 26 states address child care subsidies and quality of education. For example, Missouri, Utah, Michigan, and Indiana all implemented modifications to child care licensing guidelines to increase the level of quality and cut down on the regulations child care providers must navigate. In Kentucky, one bill creates child care cost reductions for some workers through the use of matching funds from employers. A funding grant of $15 million from the state also contributed to this program.
Early Care and Education Workforce
Changes in this category came to 18 states and D.C. following the passage of 24 bills. Some of the highlights include an early childhood educator tax credit in Colorado, wage supplements in Maine, and a pay parity grant program in the District of Columbia. Family child care networks now exist in Michigan, and Arizona, Virginia, and Utah increased the professionalization of early childhood educators through additional education.
Pre-Kindergarten and School Readiness
Bills passed by 15 states and D.C. include legislation enacted in Hawaii and California to look at expanding their existing pre-kindergarten programs. In Louisiana, a plan went into place to develop a mixed-provider pre-K model.
Early Childhood Governance
Highlights of bills passed on early childhood governance include the establishment of an Early Childhood State Advisory Council in Missouri and the expansion and restructuring of the Early Learning Advisory Committee in Indiana.
Other Trends To Note
Rhode Island’s executive office for health and human services is now required to create a task force to develop an early childhood mental health plan.
The state also passed governance legislation to establish an early childhood governance working group. It comprises several different cabinet-level agency heads. The group will create plans to address the need for coordination and implementation of various programs and services.
In Alaska, young students will benefit from decisions made to expand access to preschool programming and to focus on developing literacy. There are also plans to develop and launch a statewide virtual education consortium. This is expected to aid students and teachers in accessing virtual education and professional development resources.
In Vermont, the Vermont Child Care and Early Education Financing Study, created in 2021, releases data early this year that will include a complete fiscal analysis of the current child care and early childhood system. This will include estimates on the cost of high-quality care for infants, toddlers, preschool and older students. The state’s goal is to use the data to resolve funding gaps.
Many ups and downs hit early childhood education in recent years. However, it appears that help is continuing to come from the state government level to address education needs at all age levels. From the volume of activity during the 2022 legislative sessions, child care and early childhood education are on the radar of state legislatures, which recognize their importance in establishing the joy of lifelong learning in young children.
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