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Sen. Tim Kaine visits Campagna Early Learning Center in Alexandria, talks debt ceiling fight

U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) tours the Campagna Center”s Early Learning Center at St. James on May 26, 2023 (staff photo by James Cullum)

Virginia’s junior U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine was in Alexandria today to discuss early childhood education and said that the current debt ceiling fight in Washington should be wrapped up by the June 1 deadline.

Kaine and his staff took a field trip of sorts today, starting with a roundtable discussion in Arlington on the fentanyl crisis, followed by a tour of the Campagna Early Learning Center (5140 Fillmore Avenue) in Alexandria and ending with a meeting with women leaders in Falls Church.

Campagna Center CEO Tammy Mann applauded federal funding boosts for Head Start programs and said that employee retention is one of her biggest problems. Campagna offers both yearly early Head Start and Head Start programs for children up to five years old.

“I think there just needs to be an incredible focus on understanding compensation,” Mann said.  “It is insufficient, and all of the work that is being done to generate resources to support that area would be hugely helpful… I think, as the [fiscal year 2024 federal budget] negotiations are happening, just continuing to educate members of Congress on the cost of care. It’s far outstretched the ability of most people to pay for it, and we need a national solution.”

Kaine sits on the Senate’s Health, Labor, Education & Pensions Committee, and said he’s working on a bill with Committee Chair Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) that would increase funding for Head Start programs and provide families with rebates so that they do not pay more than 8% of their salaries on childcare.

“If I was having this meeting in Floyd, Virginia, I would hear that exact thing,” he said. “Patty and I have a bill, that is a very big bill, that is more than just increasing the Child Care Development Block route or increasing the funding to Head Start, it would guarantee that no parent would have to pay more than 8% of their income for child care. If anybody was at a center, and it was more than that, then they could get a rebate back.”

Mann said that she is continually understaffed.

“It’s difficult competing with other sectors for talent,” she said. “Our teachers get recruited away to the public school system… The Head Start program is constantly having to reset and retrain, and that takes a lot of time. And then the kids are they’re getting used to the teacher they really liked, and now there’s that turnover so that better salary means better continuity.”

Kaine said that the budget deal being hammered out in Washington will make it hard to pass his bill, although he said that he will continue to push for its eventual passage.

“I’ll be honest, I’m a little bit nervous today because of this debate that’s going on about what’s the budget deal that gets the House (of Representatives) to agree to do what we should always do, which is raise the debt ceiling,” Kaine said. “It sounds like there’s gonna be a set budgetary cap for defense spending, and then a different budget with a cap for non-defense items. And that will be a two-year deal, so we’ll raise the debt to debt ceiling for two years.”

Kaine said he advised his colleagues in Congress to raise the debt ceiling while Democrats had control of the Senate and House between 2020 and 2022.

“I really tried to urge my colleagues in November and December to do it, before the House majority became Republican,” Kaine said. “Here we are on waiting to see what gets announced. I think I have a fairly good sense of it… I think what will happen is a debt deal will be announced today or over the weekend. The Senate will then go and put that deal together next week.”