Building political will and finding public revenue for early care and learning

Early childhood caregiving and education is plagued by underfunding. As a result, private “tuition” is often higher than that of higher education, while caregivers and teachers work themselves into poverty. For example, the average annual cost of child care in a child care center in 2014 in Washington State was $13,488. The median wage of assistants was $20,796 and of teachers was $24,492.

At the same time, access to high quality care is limited by the income of the parents and the number of available slots for children. In Washington State, the number of child care providers has dropped from 7,486 with capacity for 173,977 children in 2008, to 5,793 providers with capacity for 166,834 children in June of 2015.

Public funding for high quality early learning is minimal and targeted, leaving out the vast majority of children, their parents, and their caregivers. This dismal economic reality is a result of the failure of government to adequately fund this quasi-public good. It is a reflection of:

  • The powerlessness of the unorganized early learning workforce to negotiate appropriate wages
  • The undervaluing of caregiver work, including infant and child care at home provided by an (unpaid) parent
  • The transmission of the undervaluing of caregiver work into the market economy as child care has become a marketable commodity,
  • A patriarchal culture that demeans women’s work, and
  • A culture that gives lip services to children and families while withholding the necessary investments to enable children to thrive.

None of these factors or conditions and consequent outcomes are inevitable. We have the potential to change public policy to appropriately value early childhood education. To do so, we have explored new, untapped, or undertapped funding sources. Our primary focus is on revenues that are generated from the wealthiest and most privileged. We also explore additional innovative taxes, which are based on personal consumption which is not necessary or foundational for the economic security of daily life. Both streams of revenue are targeted to developing, universalizing, and maintaining high quality early learning programs and practices in states across the country.

This memo discusses the following approaches for funding which can be pursued at the city, state, and federal levels:

  1. Tax on personal incomes in excess of $1 million
  2. State estate taxes
  3. State inheritance taxes
  4. Low-wage employer fees and closing corporate tax loopholes
  5. State wealth taxes
  6. Carbon taxes
  7. Wage boards
  8. Other ideas including: Privilege taxes, development taxes, employer provided child care, Professional Employer Organizations and others.

In this memo, we summarize each approach. For some options, separate briefs provide more detail. In addition, at the end of the memo, we list but do not analyze some other options. The goal is to open people’s minds and encourage out-of-the-box thinking.

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