Week Ending May 16, 2014
Senate HELP Committee Approves Early Learning Bill
The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee approved along party lines a modified version of The Strong Start for America’s Children Act (S. 1697). The bill provides for more than $30 billion over five years to create and expand early learning opportunities for children aged zero to five.
The bill would provide preschool funding through grants to states, with requirements for states to provide funding as well. These new resources would be used to establish and expand full day, high-quality programs. The federal funding is targeted to serve children from families earning below 200% of the federal poverty level. The bill requires preschool teachers to have BA degrees and training in early education, commensurate pay with K-12 teachers, small class sizes and low child-to-staff ratios, evidence-based and developmentally appropriate instruction, and comprehensive services for children, including parent engagement, nutritious meals, and health screenings and referrals.
The bill also provides for a partnership for Early Head Start and child care providers to improve care for children aged zero to three. Child care providers would be required to meet Early Head Start standards within 18 months.
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) offered a substitute bill that would have consolidated a number of federal preschool and child care programs and funding streams into a block grant to states. Over time, this would have resulted in fewer quality requirements and reduced funding. The amendment was rejected along party lines.
Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), the lead sponsor of the bill, is pushing for a floor vote before Congress adjourns for the year.
Senate Committee Introduces Highway Bill
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW) this week began consideration of a six-year surface transportation reauthorization bill that funds highway and transit programs at current levels. Highway and transit policy expires after September but the primary funding mechanism for those programs, the Highway Trust Fund, is expected to run out of money sometime in August. The legislation will not address how to fund the bill without Trust Fund money available; that task will be left to the House and Senate tax-writing committees.
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