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Cost of Quality Child Care Remains High

December 13, 2014 05:37 PM

Many studies over many years show that exposing children to quality early learning experiences can set them up for a lifetime of success. Of children who arrive at school without the skills needed to succeed, more than 85 percent are still behind in fourth grade. But, the cost of quality learning is increasingly beyond the means of working Americans.

According to a recently released study, for the eighth year in a row, child care costs remain a significant burden on the household budgets of America’s working families. The cost of child care in the United States can be as much as $14,508 annually for an infant, or $12,280 annually for a four-year-old in a center, with no guaranteed correlation to quality.

Among the key findings in the study:

  • In 2013, in 30 states and the District of Columbia, the average annual average cost for an infant in center-based care was higher than a year's tuition and fees at a four-year public college.
  • The annual average cost of care for a 4-year-old, which is less expensive than care for an infant, was higher than public college costs in 20 states and the District of Columbia.
  • The cost of full-time center-based care for two children is the highest single household expense in the Northeast, Midwest and South. In the West, the cost of child care for two children is surpassed only by the cost of housing in the average family budget.
  • The cost of child care for two children exceeded housing costs for homeowners with a mortgage in 23 states and the District of Columbia.
  • Center-based child care tuition for an infant exceeded annual median rent payments in 22 states and the District of Columbia.
  • Child care tuition for two children (an infant and a 4-year-old) in a child care center exceeded annual median rent payments in every state.
  • In every region of the United States, average child care tuition for an infant in a child care center were higher than the average amount that families spent on food.

Child care made national headlines this past November when congress passed the Child Care and Development Block Grant Act of 2014. The legislation, which provides child care subsidy dollars for low-income families, had not previously been reauthorized since 1996.

"Passage of the Child Care and Development Block Grant Act is terrific news for children and parents," said J. Glenn Hopkins, President of Hopkins House.  "But, far too many parents will continue to struggle to pay for quality child care because they earn too much to qualify for federally financed tuition subsidies while earning too little to afford quality care for their children."

Through generous donor support and vigorous fundraising, Hopkins House is able to help working parents afford tuition at its preschool academy.  The organization raises and disburses well over $200,000 every year in preschool scholarships for children of low-resourced families.  "Without this help," says Hopkins, "these children would not be able to access quality child care and their chances of arriving at the school house door ready and prepared for success would be next to not at all." 

The implications of limited access to quality care for the nation’s children go beyond families, it also impacts the economy. Studies show that increased access to quality, affordable child care raises employee morale and company loyalty, and can even save U.S. businesses as much as $3 billion a year.

Key recommendations made by the study’s authors:

  • Congress to review and consider what policy options are available to help families offset the rising cost of child care, including, but not limited to raising dependent care limits for deductions or providing additional tax credits for families and providers, public- private partnerships and to look to existing state's with successful financing models.
  • Congress to require the National Academy of Sciences to produce a study on the true cost of quality child care and to offer recommendations to Congress for financing that supports families in accessing affordable, quality child care.
  • Federal and state governments to commit to investing in early care and education programs, especially considering the recent historical progress at the federal level towards ensuring all children in low-income, working families have access to affordable, quality child care.
  • Federal and state policymakers to make child care a top priority when working on budgets.
  • Parents, concerned citizens and early care and education professionals to urge federal and state legislators to address the often overwhelming cost of quality child care.
  • Provide resources for planning and developing child care capacity to increase the availability of high quality child care options for working families.
  • Reduce barriers in the subsidy administration process that prevent families from receiving assistance.
  • Require states to have more effective sliding fee assistance phase-out plans to ensure that parents who receive a modest raise do not lose all child care assistance.
  • Provide child care assistance to families who do not qualify for fee assistance but who cannot afford the market cost of child care in their community.