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Helen Blank, Director of Child Care and Early Learning

Helen Blank is Director of Child Care and Early Learning, working on child care and early education issues, at the National Women's Law Center.

Previously Ms. Blank served 24 years as the director of the Child Care and Development Division at the Children's Defense Fund. While at the Children's Defense Fund, Ms. Blank spearheaded a variety of efforts for improved early learning legislation. In an effort to pass the Act for Better Child Care, the first comprehensive federal child care legislation, she organized the Alliance for Better Child Care. Additionally she developed a guide for the implementation of the legislation that was enacted, the Child Care and Development Block Grant, that was widely used by state policymakers and child care leaders. In 1991, she led an effective campaign to convince the Bush administration to issue regulations for the Child Care and Development Block Grant that allowed states to use the new federal funds in the best interests of children. She was also a leader in efforts to expand and improve the child care provisions in welfare reform, subsequently developing a guide to assist states in implementing the provisions. In addition, she created the Child Care Now! Campaign, an ongoing initiative, which attempts to focus attention on early care and education.

She has authored and co-authored numerous major studies and reports on state child care policies including A Center Piece of the Child Care Puzzle; Providing Prekindergarten in Child Care Centers; Getting Organized: Unionizing Home-Based Child Care Providers; Close to Home: State Strategies to Strengthen and Support Family, Friend and Neighbor Care; In Their Own Voices: Parents and Providers Struggling with Child Care Cuts; Working Together for Children: Head Start and Child Care Partnerships; Seeds of Success: Pre-Kindergarten Initiatives; and A Fragile Foundation: State Child Care Assistance Policies, and numerous articles and papers on child care policies.

While at CDF, she created and led the Emerging Leaders Program for up and coming leaders in early care and education and at the National Women's Law Center co-directs PLAN, the Progressive Leadership and Advocacy Network for emerging leaders focusing on issues affecting low-income women and their families.

Prior to her work at the Children's Defense Fund, she spent two years at the Child Welfare League of America where she was instrumental in the development of child welfare reform legislation. Working with the National Child Nutrition Project, she directed a model food stamp outreach campaign in the Washington Metropolitan area that increased food stamp participation, and resulted in major improvements in the administration of the program in several local jurisdictions. In addition, she helped advocate for replication of this campaign in a number of states.

Ms. Blank is a member of Teach for America's Early Childhood Advisory Board, the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood Advisory Committee, the Child Care Food Program Sponsors' Forum, and the Advisory Board for LISC, the Local Initiative Support Corporation.

Ms. Blank has a bachelor's degree from the University of Michigan and a Master's Degree in Urban Planning from Hunter College of the City University of New York.

My Take

A Strong Start: Act on PreK

Posted by Helen Blank, Director of Child Care and Early Learning | Posted on: January 29, 2014 at 10:36 am

Last night in his State of the Union Address, the President recommitted to ensuring that all low- and moderate-income four-year-olds have access to a high-quality prekindergarten experience. This is an important goal to keep on the front burner. And it is one that is widely shared. 

Nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of Americans believe that ensuring all children have access to preschool education is an absolute priority this year, according to a new poll [PDF]. These poll results are consistent with four earlier polls showing that an overwhelming majority of the American public agree that better early childhood education is very important as is public funding to provide children with access to these programs. This support held among both parents and non-parents, and both Democrats and Republicans. 

High-quality early education is also supported by a growing number of state and local elected officials from both parties. Already this year, New York City Mayor De Blasio and New York Governor Cuomo have offered plans to expand prekindergarten. California's Senate leader Darrell Steinberg is heading a legislative effort to extend preschool to all of the state's four-year-olds. Indiana Governor Mike Pence is championing a new state investment in preschool. Other governors have made the expansion of preschool a focus of their state agendas as well. 

Support for preschool is bolstered by research showing that high-quality preschool is one of the key strategies to help close the achievement gap and reduce inequality in our country.


A Step Forward for Early Learning

Posted by Helen Blank, Director of Child Care and Early Learning | Posted on: January 14, 2014 at 04:14 pm

Congress has finally drafted a budget to cover all federal spending for FY 2014 — an omnibus appropriations bill — and thanks to the growing recognition of the importance of investing in high-quality early care and education, and tireless efforts by advocates, it includes significant increases in funding for early learning, despite a very austere budget context.


Child Care: It’s Time to Move it Up on Our Country’s Priority List

Posted by Helen Blank, Director of Child Care and Early Learning | Posted on: August 19, 2013 at 01:49 pm

Crushed by the Cost of Child Care,” an article in Sunday’s New York Times, highlights a dilemma faced by millions of families. It is not a new or a surprising story. Ask any parent in any community across this country what one of your biggest challenges is and they will say finding affordable and high-quality child care.

While we have made some progress over the years, putting in place programs to help low-income families with the cost of child care, federal and state funding is actually on a downward slide. It is hard to explain why we do not provide more help to families in affording child care given that the case for investing in young children is so strong. Child care plays two critical roles that support our economy. It helps children access the high-quality early learning environments that they need to succeed and it helps parents work and support their families. Yet we have not found the will to ensure that all our children and their families, especially the most vulnerable, have the early childhood opportunities they need.

For the sake of nation’s children, families, and economy, we need to do better. This will require policymakers to step up their commitment to child care.


Help Our Young Children Smile

Posted by Helen Blank, Director of Child Care and Early Learning | Posted on: June 05, 2013 at 01:02 pm

Young children love a good time and clamor to go to the local carnival. They are eager to ride the merry-go-round and hop on the ferris wheel. They want to eat their fill of cotton candy and candy corn, and have their parents play games to win them a stuffed teddy bear.

Today we are holding a different kind of carnival for our children. Adults across the country who care about a better future for our children are blogging to help give them more opportunities for high-quality early education. I am excited to join this “blog carnival” with so many others who understand that high-quality early learning is a key to keeping the smile on these young children’s sweet faces.


President Obama Leads the Way on Early Education for All Children

“So tonight, I propose working with states to make high-quality preschool available to every single child in America.”

In his State of the Union address Tuesday night, the President called for making prekindergarten available to all children through a federal-state partnership. He made a compelling case for this investment in early education, noting the benefits for children, parents, and our nation’s economy. He explained how early education could help children succeed in school and in life. He talked about the importance of helping parents struggling with the high costs of preschool. And he discussed his proposal as a key part of building the strong workforce we need for our future economic prosperity.

The President demonstrated his commitment to early education not only by mentioning it in his State of the Union address, but also by inviting Susan Bumgarner, an early childhood educator from Oklahoma—a state that makes prekindergarten available to all four-year-olds—to be a guest of the First Lady during the address. Susan Bumgarner is one of the many early education teachers (most of whom are women) across our country who are helping our children grow and learn so they are ready for school.

We are excited about this proposal and about working to make it a reality for children and families. We look forward to hearing more details, as there are many questions about exactly what form it will take and how it will work. For example: What role will states play in making prekindergarten available?