NEW YORK – Catholic education advocates say a small but significant change to the federal government’s existing childcare program in the Biden administration’s Build Back Better Act would have precisely the opposite effect of the administration’s goal of expanding childcare and preschool access.
The existing legislation is the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG), which, since 1990, has provided money to states to pass on to low-income families. The state does so in the form of a voucher, or what the Biden administration has coined a certificate.
To this point, private and faith-based providers have had protections that allow them to operate in accordance with their mission. Now, the Build Back Better Act would change the language of the CCDBG so that those certificates are considered federal financial assistance to the childcare provider.
“That is problematic, because once you’re a recipient of federal funds you then are subjected to all of the provisions of Title IX, which would then put our schools in a position of having to abide by executive orders regarding sexual orientation, gender identity and all of that would have to be observed, which we’re not accepting,” Sister Dale McDonald, the National Catholic Educational Association vice president of public policy, told Crux.
McDonald and other Catholic education advocates believe the change effectively will exclude many faith-based providers from participation in the CCDBG, creating the opposite effect of an expanded childcare program.
“They’re trying to provide more opportunities for [preschool], which we are happy about and want to participate in as faith-based providers, and they need us,” McDonald noted. “We have a lot of faith-based providers, so they want us, and they actually need us, and that’s the point we’re trying to make with them on the Hill.”
In a statement to Crux on Nov. 5, an aide of the House Committee on Education and Labor reiterated that faith-based providers are eligible to receive funding but dodged the federal funding aspect.
“Meeting the demand for affordable child care and universal preschool is a major focus of the Build Back Better Act,” the committee aide said in the statement. “Accordingly, the bill gives the states flexibility to fund a wide range of providers.”
“Faith based providers are an important part of the solution, and they are eligible to receive funding under both the childcare and preschool provisions of the bill,” it continued.
Six United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ committee chairmen, including Bishop Michael Barber, chairman of the Committee on Catholic Education, weighed in on the change in a letter to Congress earlier this week, writing that they “are concerned by several provisions in the Build Back Better Act that do not align with the principles we outlined with respect to preserving religious liberty and expanding access to early childhood education.”
Jennifer Daniels, the USCCB Committee on Education associate director of public policy, questions why the Biden Administration is using this method to expand childcare.
“I don’t understand why they can’t just expand the existing program that’s working so well, that everybody’s already participating in,” Daniels told Crux. “They could expand it in the context of the existing program and the money could be there to serve more children.”
The CCDBG made $9.5 billion available to states, territories and tribes in fiscal year 2021, according to data from the Office of Child Care that administers the program.
The way the Biden Administration would set up universal preschool through the Build Back Better Act, Daniels said, excludes faith-based providers in a different way. Unlike the CCDBG certificate method, the universal preschool proposal takes parents out of the equation and operates exclusively on federal grants to providers, which makes it “very unlikely that many of our faith-based groups are going to choose to participate in this program.”
“The goal of this program is to expand access to families, but what it’s going to do is decrease the number of seats available for families,” Daniels argued. “Our goal is for families to be involved in these processes and in the universal preschool without this certificate they are stuck with whatever provider happens to be in their neighborhood that’s made available to them, and we want them to have as many robust choices as possible.”
McDonald summed up the Biden Administration’s proposed changes to the CCDBG as, “They want us to be a provider, but not a Catholic provider.”
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