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Editor’s note: This story led off this week’s Early Childhood newsletter, which is delivered free to subscribers’ inboxes every other Wednesday with trends and top stories about early learning. Subscribe today!

If politics hadn’t derailed long-fought-for policy changes to early childhood education, the child care landscape in the U.S. would look a lot better for parents this fall.

Hopes were high that President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better plan would include funding for universal preschool, along with an investment in affordable, high-quality child care. Anticipation grew for a “major chapter in the history book of early education,” in the words of Albert Wat, senior policy director of Alliance for Early Success, a national nonprofit that works with early childhood policy advocates at the state level.

Alas, the Senate stripped all funding for child care from the reconciliation package that passed in August, crushing hopes for immediate change to a system on the verge of collapse. That’s left parents scrambling amid new pressures, from soaring inflation to employer demands that they return to office work and put an end to flexible pandemic working arrangements.

“It’s heartbreaking,” Julie Kashen, a senior fellow and director for women’s economic justice at the Century Foundation, said, while also noting the need to build upon some of the positive publicity that came out of the protracted battle. “Child care has become a national issue in a very powerful way. We are closer than we had been in 50 years,” she said. “What else can we do but continue to fight?”

That’s why Kashen is already looking to what’s next: boosting a national movement and building a web of advocates who help keep child care needs front and center for legislators and businesses. “Employers must speak up so people understand that this is not a family problem, it’s an economic issue, and it is something Congress has to act upon,” Kashen said.

The Hechinger Report’s deep reporting on the issue during the pandemic revealed a fragile child care industry lurching from crisis to crisis that has long struggled with inadequate federal investment. Low-paid childcare workers, frustrated by the lack of benefits and unstable employment during the pandemic, have left the profession, adding to the industry’s staffing challenges.

That’s why we are continuing our efforts to understand the enormous strain many parents are feeling as K-12 schools return to a post-pandemic “normal.”

Students may be back in classrooms, but parents are still having trouble getting spots in child care centers, where waiting lists are longer than ever and after-school programs are in many cases full. We want to know what parents are experiencing and how they are coping, and we also welcome hearing more about child care centers that are rebuilding post-pandemic.

The Hechinger Report’s Jackie Mader has spent years reporting on these issues, and wants to hear your stories to help her assess the current landscape of U.S. child care and the lingering effects of the pandemic. Parents and caregivers, how are you coping? Did you adopt an unusual arrangement to find post-pandemic care for your children or did you change jobs to watch your children at home while you’re working? Are you still dealing with after-school care shortages? How do you feel about the arrangements you’ve made?

Please tell us about your experiences. Click here to get in touch with Jackie. Your stories will help our continued reporting on the child care crisis we’ve explored for years, one many of us are living with as well as reporting on. We will not share your story without your permission.

We will also be exploring solutions as caregivers continue to deal with challenges. In the new book “Parent Nation,” Dr. Dana Suskind, a pediatric surgeon and social scientist, and science writer Lydia Denworth make a convincing case for supporting parents, based on current knowledge of early childhood brain development and the way children grown and learn. You can listen to a conversation about the book here.

The book shares Suskind’s insights from the dark and difficult pandemic months, when scores of child care and other early learning centers shut down, stranding parents and harming children in ways we may not fully understand for years to come.

“You cannot push pause on the work in progress that is a child’s brain,” Suskind writes, noting ways the pandemic highlighted the enormous costs to children, society and parents of neglecting investments in our youngest learners. She blames “a string of deliberate political decisions, sins of omission and untended consequences…we need more, and should expect more of our society.”

For her part, Kashen is focused on moving forward, setting her sights on what she sees as the biggest obstacle to improving child care: Politicians who don’t want to make investments in early childhood spending.

“People have been made to feel that childcare is an individual problem, but the pandemic revealed that it’s a public problem,” Kashen said. “It affects employees and it requires public solutions.”

This story about child care funding was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for Hechinger’s newsletter.

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