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Wash. Lawmakers Draw Road Map for More Affordable Child Care

More than half of Washington state child care centers had unfilled positions in 2018, according to research. (darby/Twenty20)
More than half of Washington state child care centers had unfilled positions in 2018, according to research. (darby/Twenty20)
February 12, 2019

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Washington state lawmakers are laying out plans to make child care more affordable and accessible.

The Child Care Access Now Act sets out a few goals for the state, aiming to establish universal access to child care for all families by 2025 and cap expenses at 7 percent of a family's income. Lois Martin, director of the Community Day Center for Children in Seattle, said the growing cost of living is making some families cut corners when finding care.

"You see a lot of folks advertising on Craigslist that they provide care in their home, and some families are forced to use them,” Martin said. “Where, this way, it would help to make it safer for our children to be able to be in a licensed facility."

The legislation would create a work group to form a road map toward more affordable care, considering components such as subsidy rates. Martin noted that child care costs can run higher than college tuition at many universities.

The bill also looks to raise wages for early learning teachers so they are in line with K-12 educators. John Burbank, head of the Economic Opportunity Institute, said the median pay for child care teachers is a little more than $14 an hour, which is $10 less than the state median wage. He said compensation that low shows a lack of respect for these workers.

"Workers can make more money, frankly, going across the street and working at a retail shop with a lot fewer demands than you would find in child care,” Burbank said. “So there is a real crisis, not just in compensation but in consequent hiring."

He said low pay makes it hard to recruit more workers. According to EOI research, in 2018, more than half of child care centers had unfilled positions, and a third of programs reported the need to limit their enrollment due to lack of staff.

Burbank said a capital gains tax or doubling the state estate tax could help fund the proposals in this legislation.

Martin has been working in child care for nearly three decades and advocating for early learning for more than a decade. She said it's good to see lawmakers taking action on this issue.

"I appreciate the work of the Legislature in looking into our field and recognizing the impact of early learning on our state and its effect on the future of our families."

A public hearing is scheduled for Wednesday on the Senate version of the bill, SB 5436.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA