by David Gray, Director, Workforce and Family Program at the New America Foundation

Today at the New America Foundation in Washington we held an event on child care policy in the context of the President’s recent Race to the Top challenge grant. 170 people RSVPed for the event. 141 watched on the internet. 119 attended in person. However, counting myself, there were only 6 men at the event. 6 men out of 119 attending. That is a stunning statistic. It is also a significant problem for child care as a political issue. For an issue like child care to break through the Washington policy stalemate, where little social policy is being legislated, and to receive significant attention, there needs to be broader support. When issues are narrow, or appear to be an issue of interest for only one group or one gender, it becomes much more difficult for those issues to receive broad political support. That is what I am concerned about with such a ratio at our event today.

Child care is an important policy issue. Last May, President Obama announced a $500 million federal grant competition to improve early childhood education in America. Guidelines for the request for proposal will come out in August and mostly likely states will have to respond by October. This competition, modeled on the Race to the Top program that spotlighted the need for public school reform, has the potential to increase the focus on the importance of children’s earliest years of life for healthy cognitive and social development. This comes at a time when Congress and the states are thinking about ways to improve child care and has potential to draw attention to child care policy.

Dual-generational, quality child care is an important issue that needs renewed emphasis in America. It can make a real difference in both the educational outcomes of children and the employment outcomes for adults. It is important for the strength of our economy and families and for the social mobility of our country. Strong families with stable jobs is a school readiness issue because they lead to children being prepared for school in the majority of cases. Helping children learn in the earliest years is a long term economic development issue.

Senators Barbara Mikulski and Richard Burr held a hearing a few weeks ago that focused attention on this important issue. Reauthorization of the Child Care Development Block Grant is necessary.

This is a resource-constrained time, obviously, as Congress scrambles to meet the August 2 deadline to raise the debt ceiling. Greater quality and access are needed in the child care policy space and more resources are critical to making that happen.

However, the child care system is not going to receive the attention it needs and deserves unless there is broader political support. Those who are interested in greater attention to child care policy should look for ways to broaden the constituency of those focusing on this important issue. It starts by looking around to see who is showing up.