Both Clinton and Trump are getting it wrong on child care

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The current presidential election has recently begun a pivot toward the incredible cost of child care in America. Both Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and GOP nominee Donald Trump have released their plans to alleviate the financial burden of child care for families. While both plans talk about providing aid to help with the cost of child care, neither campaign has addressed the very important issue of how to improve the quality of child care.

{mosads}Trump is currently promoting a plan focusing on tax breaks to help some families recoup a small percentage of the annual cost of child care. Clinton has proposed a network of subsidies that will cap the cost of child care at 10 percent of a family’s income. Neither plan has addressed promoting high-quality child care; rather, each plan has addressed only how they would promote cheaper child care.

As a mother and a researcher studying early childhood education, I can understand this issue from many angles. I, too, pay a monthly child care bill that rivals many college tuitions; I would love to see a plan that would provide cheap child care. On a professional level, I also understand the importance of quality child care. Simply providing a cheap location to house children until mom and dad get off work does not promote the kind of healthy development that children need.

One of the most important aspects of providing high-quality child care is stability. Children need to know that when they get to daycare or preschool, they will see a teacher whom they know and trust. Unfortunately, early childhood care providers make salaries that are, frankly, abysmal. According to Payscale, the average early child care provider in America makes a salary ranging from $15,502 to $28,798 per year. With these rock-bottom salaries, it should come as no surprise that many daycares and preschools have incredibly high turnover rates. This leaves vulnerable children in the care of someone they don’t know over and over again.

Perhaps equally concerning is the difficulty in recruiting and retaining highly qualified early childhood care providers. Qualifications needed to provide care to children differ from state to state. States rarely require child care providers to have a college degree. Often, child care providers are only required to pass a criminal background check and provide some level of state certification. Given the salaries child care providers can expect to make, asking for much else from them would be difficult. Certainly, no one can pay off student loans from a bachelor’s degree while making $15,502 per year.

The end result is a system of incredibly expensive child care facilities that aren’t helping children thrive. The blame cannot be placed on early childhood care providers. From experience, I can say I have met incredibly compassionate, hardworking people teaching in preschool classrooms. I can also say I have known many of those teachers to be collecting welfare to make ends meet while working a 60 hour workweek.

Child care centers in America operate on incredibly thin profit margins. Despite the high cost to families paying child care bills, child care centers are often barely paying their own bills. Operating costs that include insurance, licensing fees, rent for buildings, administration, staff salaries, food for children and classroom supplies are incredibly high.

American public schools are funded and operated by the government for a reason. The cost to operate a school is much too high to pass that cost on to American families. Private kindergarten through 12th-grade schools show just how much education would cost without government funding. Private school tuition in America often crests well over $50,000 per year. Operating a school is expensive. Why do we expect early childhood education to be any different?

Most highly developed countries use government funding to mitigate the cost of early childhood care and education while ensuring that care meets a minimum standard. In much of the developed world, child care is a matter for the public sector. Government funds are directed toward providing and regulating early childhood care and education. This system is not perfect; there are certainly many areas where government-funded early childhood care and education need work. However, the system we have in American today is simply not functional or sustainable.

In the absence of affordable quality child care, children find themselves in lackluster care facilities and families grapple with financial stress. Research has shown, again and again, that what happens before age 5 impacts people throughout their lifetime. Providing quality care and a strong beginning is essential.

Estimates on the larger financial implications of early childhood care and education have repeatedly shown that every $1 invested in early childhood provides anywhere from a $4 to $16 return on investment by reducing the cost of welfare dependence in adulthood, the cost of the criminal justice system, and reducing the cost of publically funded remedial education like GED programs. The crux of this return on investment is providing quality child care, not just cheap child care.

Caring for young children is a public-sector issue. Even families that don’t have children pay for the cost of the welfare system and the criminal justice system. Smart investments in publically funded early childhood care and education can actually reduce public spending in the long run. To create the kind of child care and early education needed to produce long-term gains, child care providers need adequate funding and oversight. It is time to join the rest of the developed world and provide government-funded early childhood care and education to every citizen. It does, indeed, take a village to raise a child.

Leong is a part-time faculty member at Salem State University and a member of the Scholars Strategy Network.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.


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