Infrastructure deal must include child care funds

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When Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) met with President Trump to craft a long-overdue infrastructure deal, major projects such as roads and bridges were the focus.

For good reason, of course. Roads and bridges around the country need to be brought up to 21st Century standards for safety and longevity.

{mosads}But while workers are pouring concrete on new construction projects, they’ll have a hard time finding and affording child care for their own children – or they won’t even be able to consider taking the job in the first place.

After all, with our nation’s serious underinvestment in our early childhood education system, 51 percent of Americans live in what’s known as a “child care desert.” In some states, quality child care is so difficult to find that parents put themselves on waiting lists the day they find out they are pregnant – and still have to wait multiple years for a spot. Even once they get a spot, they’re likely paying more each month for child care than they are for their housing, while the educators who care for and educate their children are making so little that they are receiving public benefits.

Without a doubt, fixing the infrastructure—both physical and financial—around our nation’s child care is a critical need for the country’s current and future economic success.

With proposed spending for an infrastructure package at $2 trillion, funds can and should be used on a number of fronts, including investments in the child care workforce itself. The child care profession employs 2 million people in small and large businesses and contributes between 1 percent and 2 percent of GDP. Infrastructure funds should be used to make sure their jobs are “good jobs” – recognized, valued and compensated – while investing in their workplaces. That includes upgrading and expanding existing child care facilities, building new child care facilities in opportunity zones and other under-served areas, and covering start-up and quality improvement costs for small family and community-based child care businesses.

These investments in quality child care should prioritize the working families who have been struggling the most to make ends meet. We need to make sure that these families, so often overlooked, have access to the affordable, stable, high-quality child care they need to get and keep a job and that their children need to support their learning and growth.

But what about the return on investment? We all can physically see the benefit from new bridges and roads. They cut down on maintenance of vehicles, transportation delays, and sudden and costly disruptions caused by a collapsed bridge or impassible road.

We may not notice it as readily as new pavement, but we all gain from investment in early childhood education, too. In financial terms, Nobel prize-winning economist James Heckman has determined that there is a 13 percent return on investment to society in high-quality early childhood education, an astoundingly good rate that comes from the fact that participating students are less likely to fail out of school, spend time in jail, or become parents before they are ready.

For the participating children and their parents, the benefits accrue as well. Children in high-quality early childhood education settings are exposed to better learning environments, materials, and effective educators who maximize peer interactions, which in turn fosters healthy brain development and sets them up for success later in their school careers and in life.

With their children well-cared-for, safe and thriving, parents have more opportunity to pursue their own work or education priorities, benefiting their long-term career and financial prospects. That includes a thriving construction industry working on projects that help build our country from the ground up – just as early childhood education does.

From increased investments in the Child Care and Development Block Grant to legislative proposals for increasing supply, access, affordability, and quality, child care and early learning is a bipartisan priority in Washington as well as in states and districts across the nation.

Infrastructure investment on the level that Pelosi, Schumer and President Trump are discussing never should be focused solely on physical structures. The infrastructure around the infrastructure – and the workforce behind the workforce – are just as important.

After all, roads and bridges cannot be built if the workers have no safe, reliable, quality, and affordable place to educate and care for their children.

Rhian Evans Allvin is Chief Executive Officer of the National Association for the Education of Young Children.

Tags Child care Chuck Schumer Donald Trump Infrastructure Nancy Pelosi

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