Research News

Virginia child care reforms show states’ power to support families and the economy

Impacts include higher quality of care, increased parental employment and educational achievement—plus millions of dollars in state economic benefits.

The Prenatal-to-3 Policy Impact Center release a one-of-its-kind report, Early Investment, a Lifetime of Returns: Articulating the Value of Early Childhood Investments in Virginia. This report estimates that the state’s expansion of affordable, high-quality child care will yield substantial returns—including increased parental employment and earnings, reduced poverty and child maltreatment, and a lifetime of improved educational achievement. The report indicates these impacts will generate millions in cost savings, additional tax revenue, and economic benefits for the state.

Leveraging temporary federal funds, Virginia invested significantly in early childhood care and education services (ECCE) during the pandemic. The state increased state and federal spending by $309 million in state fiscal year 2023 (SFY23) compared to SFY19. The Virginia Early Childhood Foundation contracted with the Prenatal-to-3 Policy Impact Center to estimate the value of this investment.

The center’s analysis indicates that Virginia’s investment will generate the following returns:

  • 11,151 more children under age 5 with access to child care each month
  • 10,710 more employed mothers
  • 5,528+ children under age 5 lifted out of poverty
  • 903 fewer children needing special education services
  • 926 fewer children retained a grade
  • 1,271 more children graduating high school

For a complete list of impacts, see the full report.

“Virginia has shown that states have levers they can pull to increase access to affordable, high-quality child care, and rigorous research shows that these reforms impact states in so many ways—from major economic benefits to lower child maltreatment. In every state, early childhood care and education is a good investment,” said Cynthia Osborne, executive director of the Prenatal-to-3 Policy Impact Center and professor of early childhood education and policy at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College of education and human development.

According to the report, through higher child care subsidy reimbursement rates and a quality improvement program that supports teacher retention, Virginia’s investments can raise child care quality and availability for all children in the state—not just those who rely on subsidized care. Subsidy programs provide financial assistance to make child care more affordable for low-income families with parents who work or participate in education or training programs.

However, the vast majority of Virginia’s new funding—$275 million—comes from federal sources that will begin expiring in 2023. Nationwide, states are grappling with this upcoming child care funding cliff, when the temporary federal pandemic funding that has been supporting the industry expires. Osborne says that understanding the value of investments in child care can help states make informed decisions about how to best spend state dollars.

The specific estimates included in this report are distinct to Virginia’s child care investment and state context, but according to the center, the message holds true across states: child care is a good investment. This detailed exploration of the return on child care investments—including concrete estimates that are easy for the public to understand—can inform efforts to improve state child care systems across the country.

Read the full report.


Press Contact:  Molly Kramer, 615-343-8948,


About the Prenatal-to-3 Policy Impact Center

The Prenatal-to-3 Policy Impact Center empowers states with rigorous evidence to implement effective and equitable policies that ensure all children thrive from the start. Based in Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College of education and human development, the center’s team of researchers and nonpartisan policy experts work with policymakers, practitioners, and advocates to navigate the evidence on solutions for effective child development in the earliest years. Learn more at