At the beginning of this month, I wrote a check for $1,118 to our child care center. What for? For my two children to attend a total of five days/week - one for two days (the 2-year old) and the other for three days (my five-year old). That adds up to $13,416 for one year of part-time child care. That is one ton of money. The cost for two kids to attend our center full-time??? I don't want to know!
OK, so I do (thankfully!) get a subsidy in the form of a Dependent Care Flexible Spending Account (FSA) through my employer. But the max is $5,000/year. Love the benefit but really, how far does $5,000 go these days toward your child care costs? If you don't have a FSA, you can take the child care tax credit, with a max of $3,000 per child (up to a max of $6,000). Helpful? Yes. Sufficient? Hardly.
And this is but one of the many, many issues around childcare and early childhood education that need to be addressed through public policy (like the low, low teacher salaries) - not more wrapping paper and plant sales! Come on. It's like you install your infant car seat one day and before you know it you're shelling out $1,000's/month for child care. A rude, rude awakening. I guess what I just can't get my mind around is that it's private school before public school - isn't that weird?
The National Council of State Legislatures (NCSL), a tremendous resource for any state-level policy issue, has a terrific overview of current ECE issues, including universal pre-K. The Urban Institute (love them, too) also does loads of interesting research on this subject. So, with all these policy powerhouses focusing on the issue, why are we still paying so very much for care??? With no end in sight that I can see - except for Head Start.
So what to do? It's not realistic to expect any cash from the state, since it can't even fund full-day kindergarten, let alone add universal pre-K. Makes me wonder what other states are doing? Foundations? Anyone? 'Cause we need help. The system needs help. The Oregon Association for the Education of Young Children has a public policy web page worth a look, though it doesn't appear all that busy.
Never hurts to e-mail our state legislators, share our predicament, and ask what they're planning to do about it. Doesn't have to be eloquent. Or, if you let us know it's a good idea, we can draft a letter for readers to download to that effect. Waddya say? At least we'd be DOING something, rather than just wincing every month when we get out the checkbook.