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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Guest Opinion

Lee Williams: Spokane has a real child care crisis, and needs the help of the stimulus

By Lee Williams Community-Minded Enterprises

In Tuesday’s (July 14) Spokesman-Review article, “Child care payments start this week; Democrats push to make them permanent,” there are several statements from economists related to child care supply, workforce and parents’ use of stimulus allowing them to pay for child care. I wish to clarify those statements as they do not accurately reflect what is happening in child care in our community.

Child care issues are very complex, both from the point of view of the child care businesses and the families who count on child care for early learning opportunities for their child, providing access to work and also to attend workforce training or participate in higher education.

From the child care business perspective there is the basic need to support and sustain the business in order to provide a quality early learning experience, and help parents attend school or work. The article pointed to a lack of supply for child care; while that is technically accurate it oversimplifies a more complex and dire situation. The reasons for lack of supply are attributed to things outside of needing more child care spaces.

Some child care may have the ability to provide more spaces for children but cannot afford to take the low rate paid by the state to provide care for families whose income qualifies them for assistance. This rate is often only a fraction of what the true cost of providing a program is.

There are child care businesses that have the space but cannot find qualified teachers to hire due to workforce shortages. Child care pays minimum wage in most cases, which is not a living wage, especially to educate our children during the critical first 5 years.

Child care businesses lack the revenue parents can pay to purchase quality learning and play materials and/or to do needed repairs or remodeling to provide safe, quality learning spaces. Between 70-90% of revenue is needed just to pay minimum wage needed to pay the workforce required by law to teach the children.

The child care business model is broken and needs the help of the stimulus to finally make substantial, lasting changes to develop a quality, sustainable system of child care.

Families will choose to spend their stimulus to help their families, however the small monthly payments will not allow them to pay their child care program the revenue needed to fill the gap between what the state pays in subsidy and the true cost of care for that child. This is not allowed per Washington Administrative Code.

Families who can pay more for food, clothing, transportation or other living expenses may be able to pay more for high-quality child care, however, this revenue will not provide enough to raise the wages of early learning teachers. Compensation of child care teachers is minimum wage or just above for most programs. This is not enough to sustain the workforce or attract new teachers to early learning.

Bottom line, Spokane has a real child care crisis. This stimulus to families will do very little to alleviate the systemic problems in sustaining high quality early learning programs. As a community we will need to find real, long-lasting solutions to support our families and child care which is a small business struggling to pay their employees a living wage and serve families who need them.

Lee Williams is the chief executive officer of Community-Minded Enterprises.

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