Panel Paper: Investigating the Two-Generation Impact of the Child Care Subsidy Program: Do Subsidies Support Increases in Maternal Education?

Friday, November 3, 2017
Stetson G (Hyatt Regency Chicago)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Owen N. Schochet and Anna D. Johnson, Georgetown University

In 2016, the federal child care subsidy program (the Child Care and Development Fund [CCDF]) served more children and cost more money than other publicly-funded early care and education (ECE) programs like Head Start and public pre-kindergarten. However, while there is a wealth of research evaluating the effectiveness of these other ECE programs in promoting positive child development, fewer studies have examined the effects of CCDF subsidies on child and family wellbeing. Furthermore, existing research has focused either on estimating associations between subsidies and maternal employment, or between subsidies and children’s ECE experiences and school readiness outcomes (e.g. Herbst, 2008; Johnson et al., 2013). No studies have considered whether the subsidy program might support increases in maternal education.

This is surprising: CCDF is a two-generation program, with stated dual aims of promoting maternal employment (and maternal education) and child development. Indeed, research suggests that higher levels of maternal education promote family and child wellbeing via increased household income, enhanced maternal health, reduced stress, and better support for child learning and development (e.g., Davis-Kean, 2005). Thus, if subsidy receipt does enhance maternal education, this would suggest that the subsidy program is achieving a two-generation goal of supporting mothers and their children on a pathway out of poverty. The current study is the first to address this unanswered question.

Data are drawn from the nationally representative Early Childhood Longitudinal Study – Birth Cohort, where multiple methods were used to collect rich information on children’s ECE arrangements, the source of funding for those arrangements, household demographic and economic characteristics, and mothers’ educational backgrounds dating back to high school. Data were collected at 4 waves: when children were 9-months old, 2-years old, in preschool, and in kindergarten. The analysis uses a combination of OLS regression, propensity score matching (PSM), and difference-in-difference matching approaches to predict changes in maternal education levels from entry into the subsidy program at different child developmental periods during the critical early childhood years. All analyses are conducted on a low-income sample of mothers (incomes at or below 185% of the federal poverty line).

Preliminary results from OLS regression and PSM models with robust covariates that either predict subsidy eligibility or are otherwise correlated with improvements in educational attainment suggest that (1) subsidy receipt when children are 2-years old is significantly related to improvements in maternal education from 2- to 4-years, and (2) subsidy receipt when children are 4-years old is significantly related to improvements in maternal education from 4- to 5-years (p < .05). Additionally, models suggest that the impact of subsidies on education increases is greatest for mothers who have only a high school degree or less prior to subsidy receipt.

In 2014, Congress reauthorized the Child Care and Development Block Grant, which funds CCDF. Results from this study will inform state subsidy administration offices as they implement new policies under the recent reauthorization to link low-income mothers to education opportunities, and could shape local subsidy policy to be more inclusive of maternal education efforts when determining subsidy eligibility.