High-quality early care and education programs are crucial for children’s development, especially for economically disadvantaged children and dual-language learners. But the Trump administration’s proposal for deep cuts in federal child care, Head Start, and preschool programs in its annual budget released earlier this year could threaten the effectiveness of those programs.
If Congress adopts the administration’s funding priorities, overall federal spending on children under the budget proposal would be 6 percent lower over the next 10 years compared with spending projections under current law. Spending on early care and education would see the largest proportional cut, at 26 percent below projections of spending under current law between 2019 and 2028, according to a new Urban Institute analysis.
One of the largest cuts would be to the Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF), which supports working parents and their children by subsidizing access to early care and after-school programs. In a bipartisan agreement earlier this year, Congress approved a historic $2.9 billion increase in funding for federal child care programs in both 2018 and 2019 to help more families access affordable child care and to support implementation of the reauthorized Child Care and Development Block Grant of 2014.
The administration’s budget proposal, released just days after the bipartisan agreement, would zero out the 2019 increase, providing essentially flat funding over the next 10 years. The administration released budget amendments a few days later responding to some of the increases Congress agreed to, but it rejected the congressional plan to increase child care funding.
As a result, federal child care funding for the CCDF under the proposed budget would be cut 30 percent, or $26 billion, below the levels projected under current law for 2019–28.
How would these proposed cuts affect states and families?
The budget’s impact on states would vary, depending on how much states rely on different federal streams of child care funding. We estimate the reduction would range from 19 percent in Massachusetts to 35 percent in Mississippi. The 10-year loss in funding would range from $25 million in Wyoming to $2.4 billion in Texas.
States with the largest cuts relative to their size also tend to invest fewer state dollars in kids’ programs per child and have higher shares of children living in low-income families. The geographic distribution of the child care cuts in the president’s proposal means programs in these states would be even more squeezed for funding, and children who could receive the greatest benefits from the programs would have a harder time getting into them.
Without increased funding, the number of children served by the CCDF will continue to decline. Enrollment in the program fell from 1.74 to 1.37 million children between 2001 and 2016 because of funding constraints. Funding cuts would also result in more families joining long waiting lists for subsidized child care and would make it harder for states to implement the health, safety, and other quality-enhancing provisions of the 2014 legislation, including increases in provider reimbursement rates.
Other areas of spending on children would be reduced if Congress adopted the president’s funding priorities. Under his budget proposal, K–12 education would be cut 11 percent over the 10-year budget projection period, and child-related health and child-related nutrition programs would be cut 5 percent each.
But the largest proportional reductions would be in early care and education programs. Cutting spending in this critical area is short-sighted. Experiences during early childhood shape young children’s evolving brains and biochemistry, and they affect children’s ability to reach their full potential as healthy adults and active members of the workforce and society.