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Child Care: It’s Time to Move it Up on Our Country’s Priority List

Crushed by the Cost of Child Care,” an article in Sunday’s New York Times, highlights a dilemma faced by millions of families. It is not a new or a surprising story. Ask any parent in any community across this country what one of your biggest challenges is and they will say finding affordable and high-quality child care.

While we have made some progress over the years, putting in place programs to help low-income families with the cost of child care, federal and state funding is actually on a downward slide. It is hard to explain why we do not provide more help to families in affording child care given that the case for investing in young children is so strong. Child care plays two critical roles that support our economy. It helps children access the high-quality early learning environments that they need to succeed and it helps parents work and support their families. Yet we have not found the will to ensure that all our children and their families, especially the most vulnerable, have the early childhood opportunities they need.

For the sake of nation’s children, families, and economy, we need to do better. This will require policymakers to step up their commitment to child care. Unlike K-12 education, early care and education does not have an extensive public financing stream undergirding it. The bulk of support for early care and education comes from parents. As the New York Times article points out, we cannot build a high-quality system that ensures that children are in safe and supportive environments and that early childhood educators are well compensated if parents are picking up the majority of the costs because they are already stretching themselves as far as they can.

There is a way that the country can take a step forward in helping families and supporting increased access to higher-quality early learning opportunities for young children. Under the President’s Preschool for All Plan, all four-year-olds under 200 percent of poverty would have a chance to participate in a high-quality, full-school-day preschool program. States would also over time be able to help higher-income families with preschool costs. Parents, teachers, and others across the country should make clear to their Congress members how supporting this plan will benefit children, families, and our nation’s economy.

It's time for change, and we must act now. Time's up.