The forgotten ingredient

Last week the New America Foundation hosted a discussion of how to overcome challenges in child care and improve quality in early child care settings. Conversations such as these continue to excite me as my passion lies in improving quality child care for ALL children. Listening to three very different perspectives on our current state of child care drew me to several conclusions. 

The federal perspective revealed that as a nation, we are not prioritizing education like we should. If we were, the education agenda would not start at the age of 5 when children go to kindergarten. Instead, it would start with infants, 2-year-olds, preschoolers and Pre-Kers, since good, quality child care is education — it just happens earlier.  

The recipe for “good education” in this country starts with the ingredients. Sometimes when you cook, you can substitute out ingredients. But child care is not an optional ingredient in the education recipe. It is required for the recipe to come out successfully. For too long we’ve been doing this with child care, and that needs to change.

The perspective of states was that they have a lot more power and influence over what happens in child care settings than the federal government. But states need to work together to make quality child care a priority.

The local perspective opened my eyes to something that people don’t normally think about. In D.C., the average annual fee for center care for an infant is $18,200. For a 4-year-old, it is $14,050. That is higher than anywhere else in the country! (To see other state child care facts click here.)

Even for high-income families in D.C., that can be a strain. Some low-income families can apply for subsidies to help them afford child care. But to qualify, the absolute most that a family of three can make is $47,000 a year. There are a lot of issues with this that we’ll save for another blog, but at least these families can receive some assistance to get their children quality care.

But aren’t we forgetting something? What about families in the middle? Wider Opportunities for Women estimates that it takes almost $86,000 a year for a family with one worker, one preschooler and one school-age child to achieve economic security in D.C. (including factoring in child care costs). This is nearly double the ceiling for subsidies.

Undoubtedly, these families are particularly strained by the amount they need to pay for quality child care. What do they do? Where do they go?

We are clearly missing an essential ingredient in our local education recipe. All these questions have made me wonder - isn’t it time we finally perfected this “family” recipe and fixed this for everyone?

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