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The Build Back Better Act is on Hold—With Better, But Still Flawed, Language About Faith-Based Child Care and Pre-K

The Build Back Better Act (BBBA—H.R. 5376) proposes greatly increased federal subsidies for child care and a new, free, universal pre-kindergarten program. These programs are intended to attract faith-based providers, along with other public and private organizations, but the language in the House-passed BBBA includes many elements that would make it impossible for many faith-based providers to participate. Two major recent developments have occurred.

On December 11, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee released revised language, which eliminates some of the problems by removing the proposed nondiscrimination requirements that would have banned religious hiring and religiously selective admissions in child care and pre-K programs. Child care certificates are confirmed to be “indirect” government funding that allows child care providers to include religious teaching and activities. However, religion continues to be banned from the pre-K program, which is a grant-funded program. The language for both programs stresses the many legal obligations of participating programs without clearly emphasizing the protections for faith-based organizations and small organizations that will enable a wide range of them to know they are welcome in these programs.

On Dec. 16, President Biden issued a statement that disagreements among Democrats about the BBBA, which go far beyond disputes about the child care and pre-K programs, have sidetracked the bill’s progress. As of this writing, the bill’s fate is unclear.

IRFA and the Center for Public Justice have circulated a sign-on letter to Congress expressing concerns about the bill’s original–now changed–text. We will not send that letter. But, if and when the Senate takes up the bill again we will circulate a new sign-on letter asking for additional changes to the proposed UPK program.

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