child care and early learning
Children with low test scores and poor literacy skills in early elementary school are more likely to stay behind throughout their years of schooling, and are less likely to graduate high school. Thus, it is crucial that all children be provided with a quality early learning environment.
Early childhood education programs also Make Work Possible for many parents living in poverty. In order to participate in training programs and hold a steady job, low-income parents need safe, affordable and reliable child care.
Children living in poverty disproportionately fail to receive high quality early education. In low-income neighborhoods, children start kindergarten, on average, 60% behind their affluent peers. source This is due in large part to discrepancies in young children’s environments. A recent NPR study found that children with professional parents were exposed to 35 million more words on average than children in welfare families. Wealthier children are more likely to be enrolled in preschool programs than children living in poverty, both in DC and on a national level.
In DC, two out of five poor adults are single with children. source In order to participate in training programs and hold a steady job, low-income parents need safe, affordable and reliable child care. However, market-rate child care in the District is extremely expensive. Average annual child care costs range from $8,750 for a preschool child to $12,000 a year for an infant.
In many communities, District families face a shortage of child care providers for infants and toddlers. The shortage of quality infant and toddler care is particularly severe in DC’s low income communities – specifically Wards 5, 7, and 8. There is also a shortage of 24-hour child care. Parents working in jobs with night shifts or very early hours—particularly in the hospitality and construction industries—may have difficulty staying employed without access to child care facilities that operate at non-traditional hours.
WHAT IS BEING DONE NOW
Recognizing the need for early childcare programs for children living in poverty, the District provides vouchers to low-income working families to use at home- and center-based child care facilities. DC families with incomes up to 250 percent of the federal poverty line ($45,800 for a family of three) are eligible to participate in the program. More than 22,300 children participated in the District’s child care subsidy program in FY 2009.
While the District’s eligibility for subsidized child care is relatively generous, the reimbursement rates paid to child care service providers– and thus the quality of the child care programs — are low. Even top-tier child care providers participating in the subsidy program are reimbursed at only the 75th percentile of the 2004 market rate for childcare. Such low reimbursement rates make it harder for child care providers to hire qualified staff and to make needed upgrades to their programs.
The result: lower quality early childcare for children in subsidized early childcare programs. As measured by DC’s “Going for the Gold” initiative, only 33% of child development centers receiving child care subsidy funding to support low-income families meet the quality standards at the “gold” level in 2012. Another 20% are “silver,” and 46% are “bronze.”
Investing in quality early child care & education is important. Children unprepared for kindergarten demonstrate higher rates of crime, teen pregnancy, and welfare as adults. This not only decreases the quality of life for those living in poverty, it also costs taxpayers millions in public assistance programs. Longitudinal studies show that quality early care programs return $7 for every $1 invested source, based on the reduced cost of remedial education and justice system expenditures, and on increased earnings and tax revenues. It’s clear that greater investment in quality early childcare will help defeat poverty in the District.