Fixing the market for childcare in Washington

In a debate framed by fiscal crisis and political fallout from unprecedented budget cuts, one thing remains clear: the market for childcare is broken. Teachers are paid minimal wages, and high-quality child care is expensive and hard to find for parents. It’s well and good to declare an intent to improve the situation, but real change won’t come by wishing it to be so.

High turnover among childcare workers leads to uneven quality of care, making it near-impossible for meaningful bonding and real learning during a child’s formative years. Parents who face long waiting lists for childcare centers can’t afford to be choosy, especially in tight economic times when family incomes are stretched to the limit.

Senate Bill 5572 and House Bill 1329 would address these problems by giving childcare workers and childcare center directors a place at the table when the state determines childcare subsidy rates. Current state subsidy rates are often too low to provide meaningful assistance to low-income families, and correspondingly little incentive for centers and care providers to open spaces for these children.

A recent contract negotiated between Washington’s union of family childcare providers (SEIU Local 925) and the state shows how collective bargaining can improve the quality of and access to childcare. It improves subsidies to childcare providers; it lays the foundation for a stronger workforce by promoting quality improvements and investments in provider benefits; and it helps build the supply of infant care and off-hours care, which are notoriously hard for working families to find.

If we want to improve the quality of childcare, it makes sense to include the teachers and the providers in that process. It’s not a panacea, but collective bargaining will help increase the quality of care, make childcare more accessible for lower income families, improve teacher pay and help centers retain high-quality staff. It puts the well-being of our children and working families first.

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