Minnesota 2020 Journal: Improving Childcare Starts at Home
Minnesota’s childcare policy debate begins with two incontrovertible truths. Good childcare isn’t cheap and childcare providers don’t make very much money. It may seem counterintuitive but these truths are not mutually exclusive. We can improve childcare quality, raise wages, and control client care costs. We can have it all. Plus, Minnesota’s future depends on it.
First, however, we have to move past conservative public policy dogma’s artificial, prosperity-defeating barriers. “No new taxes” isn’t just an unfair revenue and budget structure, asking less of Minnesota’s highest income earners while giving them a larger slice of the collective pie, it’s also subverting Minnesota’s workforce development. The past ten years of education funding strangulation, including pre-K programs, won’t be truly felt for another 10-20 years when today’s students are less than fully-equipped in the workplace.
Watch a group of preschoolers playing. Watch them run and talk and smile and cry and intently explore their environment. Children are natural learners. Their brains are hard-wired to absorb information. Child development research reveals that the first few years of life assume disproportionate developmental weight. Miss the opportunity to help children grown and learn, the loss lasts a lifetime.
What’s less readily observable, watching small children play, are the economic development public policy ramifications. In twenty years, those kids become entry-level workers. We need them to become Minnesota’s most accomplished, flexible and insightful workforce in state history. Investing in high quality childcare moves us closer to realizing this goal. Subverting investments and change undermines our future.
Addressing the long-term economic and workforce development challenge requires many small changes, not a single dramatic action. If there were an easy answer, we would’ve found it—and acted on it—a long time ago.
Most Minnesota families are two-income households. Consequently, most families use daycare. Raising the quality of Minnesota’s daycare experience improves child development in a large slice of Minnesota’s population.
High quality, daycare center childcare is costly. It can easily run $300 per week, per child, roughly translating to 10,400 for a 4-year old and $13,000 to $15,000 for an infant annually. Minnesota’s medium household income is $58,000. Even assuming that young parents earn the medium, childcare costs represent a substantial family financial resource commitment.
Home-based daycare’s cost structure is about half that of a center. As a result, family childcare providers tend to serve working families. Nearly all childcare providers are women, working from their own homes. After expenses and long hours, they earn, on average, $4.95 an hour child in the Twin Cities and $2.83 in Greater Minnesota. More than half use a formal learning curriculum in their daycare programs. That also means that slightly less than half do not.
Improving Minnesota’s 2033 workforce means improving pre-K learning in 2013. We’re already asking a lot of the 9,000 licensed, home-based childcare providers. They perform critical, essential tasks, mostly by themselves. Keeping providers isolated inhibits cost increases but at the long-term expense of workforce improvement gains.
We have sliding-fee childcare assistance in Minnesota. That’s been a great step forward, aiding families and businesses alike. But, we’re past time to take the next steps forward. Improving early childhood education requires greater public investment in childcare delivery. Minnesota’s family childcare providers need better support, on-going training, and greater capacity to work together to improve their charges’ lives.
Minnesota’s history is a study in collective action. Dairy farmers started marketing coops. Immigrant groups established fraternal organizations to provide insurance coverage to their members. Churches started nonprofit organizations to address systemic poverty and homelessness challenges. Neighborhoods organized crime watch programs, augmenting police protection. We do well when we come together to work together, improving our lives.
It’s time to help Minnesota’s licensed family childcare providers do the same. We have a collective self-interest in improving childcare quality. Raising kindergarten readiness is the first observable outcome but real success is realized in 20 years as today’s preschoolers become tomorrow’s workers.
Investing in improved early childhood education is, relative to other educational costs, cheap, easy, and readily measured. Minnesota improves every child’s preschool experience, tackles the educational achievement gap and grows Minnesota’s economy when we invest in early childhood educational improvements. Kids benefit. Families benefit. Childcare providers benefit. Businesses benefit. Minnesota benefits.