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State Strategies to Strengthen Infant-Toddler Care as Public Pre-k Expands 

public pre-k instructor with child

This brief outlines strategies to protect and even expand access to a full continuum of high quality care and education in the context of pre-k expansion.

Expanding public pre-k for 3- and 4-year-olds can unintentionally reduce access to infant-toddler child care. This brief dives into what can cause this reduction and provides state strategies to protect and support infant-toddler care in this context. As policymakers consider new investments in pre-k, states can act to ensure that families have affordable access to a full continuum of high-quality early care and education (ECE).

Within ECE programs serving children from birth to 5, preschool enrollment, with its higher child-teacher ratios, has often subsidized the higher cost of infant-toddler care. Without proper considerations, public pre-k expansion, particularly when concentrated in public schools, can put this fragile financial model at risk. This can reduce access to high-quality infant-toddler child care, which is already scarce and unaffordable for too many families.

Because babies’ brains are built from birth, it is critical that policymakers expand and stabilize infant-toddler child care when investing in public pre-k. This brief lays out state policy recommendations, including: implementing pre-k through a mixed-delivery system, allocating a portion of pre-k investment and child care funds strategically to shore up infant-toddler care, and investing in family child care programs.

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