Center for American Progress

RELEASE: CAP Proposes Universal Access to High-Quality Preschool and Expanded Access to Child Care for Infants
Press Release

RELEASE: CAP Proposes Universal Access to High-Quality Preschool and Expanded Access to Child Care for Infants

Washington, D.C. — A new report released today by the Center for American Progress entitled “Investing in Our Children” puts forward two major policy recommendations: a proposal that would enable every child in the United States to attend two years of high-quality public preschool; and a plan to double access to affordable, quality child care for infants and toddlers.

Although nationwide preschool enrollment has increased to 74 percent among 4-year-old children and 51 percent among 3-year-old children, the lowest-income and most disadvantaged children are the least likely to participate in preschool programs. And currently only 22 percent of low-income families have access to federally subsidized child care. The policies included in the CAP report would help parents balance the demands of work and family, and help address our growing economic inequality and diminishing rates of upward mobility. By educating children during a critical period in their development, we can provide them with a foundation for lifelong learning and achievement and thereby strengthen America’s human capital.

“There’s one set of policies that addresses the needs of women and working families, reduces inequality, and ensures children enter school ready to learn: universal pre-K and high quality child care,” said Neera Tanden, President and CEO of the Center for American Progress. “In a time of limited resources, we know the return on investment in these initiatives is high. To ensure our children can compete in the global economy, we have to ensure they get a good start in the race.”

CAP’s preschool-to-third-grade proposal would enable every child to attend two years of high-quality public preschool and strengthens the alignment between preschool and early elementary education. Under CAP’s plan, the federal government would, on average, match state preschool expenditures up to $10,000 per child per year. This funding would allow families with children ages 3 and 4 to voluntarily send their children to a full-day (nine-hour) public preschool program or to choose a shorter-day alternative. Preschool would be free for children from families at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty line. Children from families above 200 percent of the poverty line would be charged a sliding tuition co-pay, ranging from about 30 percent of the cost to 95 percent of the cost (for families above 400 percent of the poverty line).

In addition to making high-quality preschool universally accessible to all 3- and 4-year-old children, CAP proposes increasing access to affordable child care for infants and toddlers. Investing in child care is not only critical for children but will also generate large benefits for parents and employers and will help spur economic growth. The CAP proposal therefore calls for an overhaul of the existing federal child care funding system in order to:

  • Expand access to subsidized child care for low-income parents. CAP’s plan would double access to federally subsidized child care for low-income families, from 22 percent to 44 percent.
  • Increase the federal child care subsidy to make child care more affordable. CAP’s plan would raise the child care subsidy amount by roughly 25 percent to an average of $7,200 per child.
  • Improve the quality of child care by requiring states to adopt child care standards that are developmentally appropriate, cover all essential areas, and promote early learning gains.
  • Double enrollment in Early Head Start, an extremely effective education program for young children.

Read the report: Investing in Our Children: A Plan to Expand Access to Preschool and Child Care by Cynthia G. Brown, Juliana Herman, Melissa Lazarin, Michael Linden, Sasha Post, and Neera Tanden

To speak with CAP experts on this topic, please contact Katie Peters at or 202.741.6285.