November 18, 2021– As members of Congress consider the Build Back Better bill, Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, director of the Religious Action Center, sent the following letter in support of robust funding for early childhood education and care with a system of mixed delivery and nondiscrimination provisions.
Dear Member of Congress,
On behalf of the Union for Reform Judaism, whose nearly 850 congregations across North America encompass approximately 1.8 million Reform Jews, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, whose membership includes more than 2,000 Reform rabbis, I am writing to convey our strong support for the robust funding for early childhood education and care with a system of mixed delivery and nondiscrimination provisions within the Build Back Better Act (H.R. 5376).
As it currently stands, the Build Back Better Act would allocate $450 billion to lower the costs of childcare and secure universal pre-K for three to four-year-olds. The investment this bill provides will help working families who have struggled to find affordable and consistent childcare, facilitating parents and guardians to return to work. The funding will also allow the vast majority of families to spend no more than seven percent of their income on child care.
Funding universal pre-K for three-to-four-year-olds is also a critical investment in the long-term educational success of children and our nation overall. Evidence shows that children enrolled in child care programs starting at a young age perform significantly better when entering elementary school than those who did not have these experiences. Universal pre-K gives all children an opportunity to have this boost – regardless of their socio-economic status. The bill also includes $15 billion for childcare facilities and establishing a Child Care Wage Grant program to increase wages for childcare providers, which is necessary to increase the quality of childcare and pre-k programs.
Crucially, the funding included in the Build Back Better Act is a mixed delivery system. Many public schools do not currently have the capacity to add universal pre-k programs to their schools. Mixed delivery gives funding to create new programs in public schools, as well as support both public and private pre-existing pre-K and childcare programs. A mixed delivery system also gives parents the opportunity and access to choose childcare providers that meet their unique needs, whether public or private.
While we strongly support a mixed delivery system, we also maintain that taxpayer funds should never be used to discriminate within government-supported programs. Importantly, Subtitle D of Title II of the Build Back Better Act includes language that ensures childcare and preschool providers that accept these government funds cannot discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin (including language), disability, religion, or sex (including sexual orientation, gender identity and pregnancy status). No one should be denied access to federally funded childcare and education programs because of their religion or identity.
Our support for an investment in childcare is inspired by our Jewish values, including biblical and rabbinic teachings on the sanctity and welfare of children. In Jewish tradition, every person is created B'tzelem Elohim -in the image of God. It is humanity’s obligation to protect and nurture this divine spark, enabling children to reach their fullest potential. Jewish tradition also teaches that God nurtured us in the desert after we left Egypt, ensuring our safe passage into the land of Israel. So, too, should we ensure the safe passage of our children from youth to adulthood by guaranteeing them the care necessary for proper growth and development.
Childcare and pre-K are crucial to many families’ economic security and the long-term success of children. Now is the time for Congress to address America’s childcare crisis with a significant investment in our early childhood education and care system to ensure every family can access care options that work for them, regardless of their religion or identity.
As the Build Back Better Act makes its way through the House and eventually to the Senate, I urge you to do everything in your power to ensure the bill includes a significant investment in our nation’s childcare system, including a mixed delivery system and nondiscrimination provisions, so parents can have quality, affordable options for their children.
Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner