Both House and Senate have overwhelmingly passed, and President Obama has signed into law, bipartisan legislation that would reauthorize the 1990 Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) program. The federal program provides assistance to help low-income parents obtain subsidized child care, enabling them to work and support their families. Approximately, 1.5 million children are enrolled in CCDBG, including many thousands in the Orthodox Jewish community.
The new law is especially noteworthy because of its strong endorsement of “parental choice” and its reaffirmation of the central, even preferred, role of the “child care certificate” (also known as a voucher) in the program. The voucher provides a constitutionally-permissible means of allowing parents to choose, among their options, religious child care programs — the overwhelming preference of Orthodox Jewish families.
In 1990, Agudath Israel of America played a pivotal role in creating and promoting the voucher program, and has since been active in protecting its continued vitality. The organization’s Washington Office was heavily involved in crafting the “parental choice” provisions contained in the current reauthorization.
“The importance of the ‘child care certificate’ cannot be overstated,” notes Rabbi Abba Cohen, Agudath Israel of America’s Vice President for Federal Government Affairs and Washington Director. “It was the first, and remains the only, education-related voucher program on a national level, and is looked to as a model for other federal and state programs.”
“Our community has been well-served by it,” Rabbi Cohen observes.
The reauthorization’s robust support for “child care certificates” is seen as particularly meaningful in light of what many perceived as a desire on the part of both federal and state governments to weaken the primary role played by vouchers in the federal child care program.
The new law includes a provision, authored by Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), which makes clear that nothing in the CCDBG Act should be construed to “favor or promote the use of grants or contracts … over the use of certificates” or to “disfavor or discourage the use of such certificates for the purchase of child care services, including those services provided by… faith-based providers.” The importance of maximizing parental options through vouchers was strongly emphasized by the House and Senate leaders in other legislative provisions, in committee reports and during floor debate.
“We are heartened by the many members of Congress who worked cooperatively with us in ensuring that parental choice remained a guiding principle of the program,” asserted Rabbi Cohen. He acknowledged the leadership of Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), as well as Sen. Scott, on the Senate side. House leaders included Rep. John Kline (R-MN), Rep. George Miller (D-CA), Rep. Todd Rokita (R-IN) and Rep. Dave Loebsack (D-IN).