MARC, through its Metropolitan Council on Early Learning (MCEL), supports public policies and investments that will increase access to high quality early learning programs for Missouri’s children and families. MCEL, in collaboration with Partners in Quality for Early Childhood Education and statewide advocacy partners, endorses the following goals and policy recommendations for the 2016 legislative session:
2016 Missouri Public Policy Agenda:
Missouri Tobacco Tax Initiative for Early Childhood Programs
MCEL and Partners in Quality support public funding strategies like the “Raise Your Hands 4 Kids” initiative to increase the Missouri state tobacco tax to invest in early childhood education and health programs for children birth to five. Missouri has the lowest tobacco tax in the nation at 17 cents per pack. Raising Missouri’s tobacco tax by just 50 cents will raise and estimated $250 million annually into the early childhood health and education programs. Through this effort an Early Childhood Health and Education Trust Fund will established to invest funds into early childhood development programs for Missouri children ages birth through 5 using revenue generated the tobacco tax. MCEL in partnership with Partners in Quality, supports efforts to place an initiative petition on the ballot for Missouri voters in 2016 to increase the tobacco tax to support investments in early childhood education and health programs.
Child Care Development Block Grant Compliance
In November 2014, Congress reauthorized the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) with strong bipartisan support. The legislation aims to ensure the health and safety of children in child care settings, improve the quality of care, and make it easier for families to get and keep child care assistance. The state of Missouri receives over $142 million in CCDBG funds each year to provide child care assistance to more than 39,000 children and their families across the state, so maintaining compliance with the new regulations is critical to Missouri children and families. The new CCDBG includes new regulations which may require the Missouri to adopt policy changes and increase resources to fully implement the law. In particular the law will require states provide more consumer information to families regarding child care licensing compliance and quality. Child care providers receiving state subsidies will have to have their staff complete a comprehensive background check, be subject to unannounced licensing visits, and meet basic staff to child ratios. The new regulations also increased pre service and ongoing professional development training requirements for providers receiving subsidy funds. The CCDBG does increase the amount of funding to states to improve quality and encourages states to develop or expand Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS) designed to measure and improve early learning program quality over time. MCEL in partnership with Partners in Quality supports the adoption of legislative and policy changes that will maintain Missouri’s compliance with the new CCDBG regulations and supports efforts to use increased quality funding for comprehensive quality systems for early learning programs such as the establishment of a statewide QRIS.
Reverse Legislation Banning Quality Rating and Improvement System in Missouri
In 2012 the Missouri Legislature passed an amendment to House Bill 1731, that bans implementation Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS) for early learning programs using state funding. QRIS programs currently operate in 41 states. QRIS programs help parents select the early learning programs that best meet the needs for them and their children. QRIS systems guide child care, preschool and after-school programs toward nationally accepted best practices of care and education and provide monetary supports to help these programs improve their quality over time. Many States tie higher subsidy payments to higher levels of quality. Stair-stepped child care subsidy payment levels, pegged to objectively measured quality, help programs maintain quality and continue improving. Unfortunately the current language contained in HB1731 bans implementation of many of these strategies in Missouri and may prohibit local efforts to develop QRIS programs that may use state funding indirectly. MARC, through its Metropolitan Council on Early Learning, supports efforts to remove language from HB1731 banning the implementation of QRIS programs in Missouri.
During the 2014 legislative session the Missouri General Assembly passed HB 1689 which provides pre-Kindergarten state funding to districts and charters through the state finance formula for public education. The Pre-K funding is for children ages 3 and 4 eligible for free/reduced lunch. Funding is capped at 4% of the district’s and charter’s total number of pupils who are eligible for free/reduced lunch. Unaccredited schools will receive funding during the 2015/2016 school year; provisionally accredited districts will receive funding during the 2016/2017 school year; all other district funding is contingent upon full funding of the foundation formula.
High quality voluntary Pre-k programs cultivate successful elementary, secondary and postsecondary students. Pre-k increases high school graduation rates, helps children do better on standardized tests, reduces grade repetition and reduces the number of children placed in special education. MCEL in partnership with Partners in Quality supports efforts to fully fund the school foundation formula and to continue to phase-in publicly funded voluntary Pre-K to reach more Missouri children two years prior to entry into kindergarten.