Child care reform: Baby steps expected at Legislature

By: - February 25, 2019 6:23 am
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Piecemeal efforts are underway to expand affordable child care options for families with the greatest needs, but the larger conversation about universal daycare hasn’t even begun here in Nevada.

This is despite a growing number of voices at the national level, including from one presidential hopeful, calling for Democrats and progressives to place child care issues at the forefront of political platforms. Until that happens, thousands of families across Nevada are unlikely to receive reprieve from the financial burden of child care, which on average costs more than in-state tuition at the state’s four-year universities.

The average annual cost of child care in licensed centers in Nevada ranges from $11,137 for an infant to $8,835 for preschoolers, according to a report by the Children’s Advocacy Alliance and the Nevada Institute For Children’s Research And Policy. Nationally, more than a quarter — 26.5 percent — of all families with young children who have child care costs are “cost burdened” and spend more than 10 percent of their family income on child care, according to research by the University of New Hampshire.

Hurt worst are single parents and low-wage workers. A single parent with an infant and preschooler living at 100 percent of poverty — $1,702 a month — would spend 97 percent of her income on center-based care for her children. A parent making the state minimum wage would spend more than her annual salary on child care for two children.

Erika Washington, executive director of Make It Work, wishes she could nail down the reasons why politicians and the wider public struggle to acknowledge the issue of child care affordability.

“It’s a frustration that I carry with me on a day-to-day basis,” she says. “It does always seem to get pushed to the back.”

Ensuring that all children have access to quality daycare and preschool is a collective responsibility, argues Washington. It’s an investment in the community. Studies have suggested public money spent on childcare and preschool programs leads to a financial return on investment. Early childhood education is linked to lifelong successes. Parents who are unable to obtain affordable childcare cannot better their jobs or careers, trapping themselves in a cycle of poverty.

And all that says nothing of the moral argument: that children should have access to safe, quality care regardless of their family’s social status as a have or have-not.

Regardless, child care as a political issue hasn’t sparked the advocacy funding that other issues have, despite being just as important and potentially life-changing for people.

“I could go down the list of important progressive issues that have gotten a lot of attention,” says Washington. “There’s investment from donors and grantees for those issues. There’s money for childcare issues as well, but it’s not an influx in the same way, so there’s not the same sense of urgency for pushing universal childcare or more 24-hour daycares, which are things that people need.”

Put another way: Unlike high profile issues such as gun safety, clean energy or health care, there is no reservoir of well-funded organizations and wealthy individuals financing the cause of affordable child care.

Children’s Advocacy Alliance Executive Director Denise Tanata takes a more measured position on the issue of childcare issues in Nevada.

“We’re making progress,” she says. “We have seen steady increases (in funding) for things like the state’s pre-k program. I don’t think it makes sense to move too fast because we have some infrastructure issues.”

Tanata says if the state budget “miraculously” received enough funding to support something like universal preschool or childcare, there wouldn’t be enough classroom space or centers to accommodate every child.

“It’s more important for us to do it slowly, so we ensure we’re not just creating seats, but creating high quality seats,” she adds. “That’s really the important part. Taking it slower is fine.”

This legislative cycle, Nevada is on track to adjust the childcare reimbursement rate received by providers. Currently, childcare centers are reimbursed by the state at 75 percent of 2004 market rates. The difference in cost is typically passed onto families and prices out the poorest families. A new bill would bump the reimbursement rate to 75 percent of current market rates. Advocates are also requesting additional funding for children in specific vulnerable populations, including youth in foster care. Advocates also want to expand eligibility for childcare subsidies to parents who are enrolled in college — something the state used to cover but no longer does.

Last year the state invested $1 million to address the waitlist of childcare centers attempting to enroll in the Silver State Stars Nevada, a voluntary rating system designed to help ensure quality and oversight. Tanata says progress continues to be made on that front, with the number of providers on the list doubling in a year.

Finally, advocates keep pushing for preschool to be a part of larger conversations on education. Issues like the teacher shortages faced by K-12 systems similarly affect early childhood centers.

For broad, sweeping childcare reform, you have to look to the federal level. There, some politicians and political talking heads are advocating for placing child care at the forefront of the Democratic platform. Leading the way is presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren, who this month announced her universal day care and early childhood education proposal.

Warren’s plan calls for the federal government to “partner with local providers — states, cities, school districts, nonprofits, tribes, faith-based organizations — to create a network of child care options that would be available to every family.” Child care and preschool would be free for any family that makes less than 200 percent of the federal poverty line and capped at 7 percent of family income for everyone else.

In a Medium post detailing her plan, Warren included vignettes of families across the country who would benefit: Cindy and Brian are a married couple in Nevada with an infant son. They make $75,000 a year. While the average annual cost of infant child care in Nevada is just under $10,000, they have no choice but to pay that because they both work full-time. Under my plan they could send their son to high-quality child care for no more than $5,250 a year — a savings of nearly $5,000, or almost 50%.

Warren would pay for the child care plan with perhaps her signature policy, an “ultra-millionaire tax” on people with a net worth of more than $50 million. The tax, described as “a small annual tax on their wealth,” would generate $2.75 trillion in new government revenue over the next decade — about four times more than the expected cost of the Warren’s universal child care and early learning plan.

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April Corbin Girnus
April Corbin Girnus

April Corbin Girnus is an award-winning journalist with a decade of media experience. A stickler about municipal boundary lines, April enjoys teaching people about unincorporated Clark County. She grew up in Sunrise Manor and currently resides in Paradise with her husband, three children and one mutt.