Child Care Costs Rival College Tuition

New parents often face sticker shock when confronted with the steep cost of child care. That's especially true here in the District, where for working parents who don't qualify for subsidies, child care often costs as much as college tuition--and the cost is rising.  

In a new report the average cost of child care for an infant may top the cost of tuition and fees at a public university in 31 states and Washington, DC. The report, Turning the Corner: State Child Care Assistance Policies 2014, from the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), examines low-income families in many states–33, to be exact–have greater access to child care between 2013 and 2014. Still, that progress is relative.

The report examines state policies on reimbursements for the child care providers who accept vouchers for low-income families. While the federal government recommends that states set reimbursements at the 75th percentile of market rates, just one state does so, down from three states last year and way down from 22 in 2001. Given those low reimbursement rates and the high costs of providing care to young children, maybe it’s no surprise that child care workers earn distressingly low salaries in their jobs. As we have written about before, recruiting and retaining high-quality child care teachers with knowledge and experience in child development is exceptionally hard.

But getting back to the point of the cost of child care, how could it cost more than college

We move towards a more robust child care industry with a dual emphasis of supporting early childhood development and early education, we need to ensure programs are equipped to fulfill both missions—and that takes significant investment. Just as college professors are compensated for their high degree of educational attainment and for teaching students, child care professionals must also receive specialized training and continuing education and must also be proportionally compensated for caring for infants and toddlers. Centers need to be able to provide competitive compensation to retain qualified staff and give them the ongoing professional development the field demands.

When my daughter was six months old I confronted the same decision about going back to work and the choosing a child care for her. Ultimately, I decided to stay home to care for her. By the time I had my second child, I was faced with spending upwards of 65% of my income after taxes for quality child care for my 18 month-old and newborn infant. Again, I decided to stay home. Even having worked in the early care and education field for most of my career until that point, I hadn’t fully realized how daunting and limited the choices are for working parents of young children.

As a parent, there is no limit to what I would pay to ensure my children are cared for in a nurturing, safe, warm environment where they are given the chance to learn and grow. All children, whether in Ward 3 or Ward 8, deserve the same high-quality care. You just can’t put a price tag on it and declare it out of reach for some. We need to find a way to make it accessible for all of DC’s youngest citizens.


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