Access to affordable, high-quality child care has been a longtime challenge for U.S. families, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the issue. Over the past two years, the Connecticut Office of Early Childhood (OEC) has made a number of significant subsidy policy changes aimed at improving the affordability of care, the supply of high-quality care, and families’ access to child care subsidies. OEC has increased its base payment rates and increased its tiered rate for quality above its existing bonus rate for nationally accredited providers. Using funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) of 2021, OEC has implemented an additional quality bonus for accredited programs, helping to incentivize providers to achieve national accreditation. OEC is also using ARPA funds to cover family co-payments through the end of December 2021. In addition, OEC is covering mandatory program registration fees and discontinuing the practice of allowing providers to charge families the difference between the subsidy payment rate/copayment and their regular fees. These policies have the potential to make child care more affordable and accessible for Connecticut families who receive child care subsidies. To expand access further, OEC is also using ARPA funds to increase the income eligibility ceiling, thus allowing more families to access subsidies to help pay for child care.
Understanding the impacts of these policy changes on child care access has the potential to inform future policy. In acknowledgement of this important work, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration of Children and Families, Office of Planning, Research (OPRE) has awarded an 18-month planning grant to Education Development Center, Inc. (EDC) and the Connecticut Office of Early Childhood (OEC). The planning grant will support the two organizations in partnering to design a coordinated evaluation of Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF) policies and initiatives in Connecticut. Specifically, the partnership proposed to explore Connecticut policies related to child care subsidy payment rates, family co-payments, and subsidy eligibility and examine the effects of these policies on families’ access to affordable, high-quality child care that meets their needs and supports their children’s healthy development. Dr. Clare Waterman Irwin of EDC (PEER Co-Director), will lead the project with the support of Dr. Heidi Rosenberg, also of EDC. Dr. Michael Strambler (PEER director) will serve as a project advisor.
During this project, EDC will partner with OEC to develop a data catalogue that will allow the team to explore available data related to these policies and key research questions and identify gaps in data that can be addressed during this planning grant. In partnering with OEC to conduct data explorations and preliminary analyses, EDC will help the agency build their capacity to design and carry out rigorous evaluations of their subsidy policies. Dr. Waterman Irwin and Dr. Rosenberg will also engage with the other recipients of CCDF evaluation planning grants to identify common measurement tools, instruments, and analytic approaches, and to refine the logic model guiding the evaluation planning process. These activities will result in the development of a robust, rigorous evaluation plan that can guide a subsequent implementation study of OEC’s subsidy policies and examine their impact on families’ access to care in Connecticut. The ten states that were awarded CCDF evaluation planning grants will be eligible to apply for grants focused on implementing these CCDF evaluations. The OEC, EDC, and PEER are all excited about this opportunity to thoughtfully design an evaluation to help explore ways in which CCDF policies can help expand access to high-quality early care and education in Connecticut and beyond.