Connecting the dots – economic growth and quality child care

Amber Campbell’s recent column in the Beacon Hill News & South District Journal is a case study of how a lack of affordable quality child care is hobbling Washington’s current and future economic growth:

Heidi Baxter – first-time mom, Valley resident and career lawyer – said the search [for childcare] “was such a nightmare” that it brought her to tears. Like many working women, Baxter was expected back at work just 16 weeks after her baby was born. She was shocked to find not just a lack of options, but 18-to 24-month waiting lists and stiff application fees for programs that couldn’t even guarantee her a spot when the time came.

The idea of losing her job if she can’t find care has made Baxter sick with grief. “I’ve been really, really frustrated,” Baxter said. “I just don’t know what to do.”

Think for a moment about the dilemma Baxter is facing: her job or her kid. That isn’t a choice, any more than is choosing food versus heat. The bottom line is, Washington’s citizens need to have their jobs to make a living, and we need our kids to grow up healthy, strong and smart – for a whole variety of reasons.

It’s no better for her employer. Either Baxter quits her job – with all the costs for hiring, retraining, etc. that will incur – or she commits to staying on, but having to be out the door in time to pick up her child, because the child care options that are out there are simply too limited to meet the needs of today’s working families:

For example, one popular Valley preschool serving mostly working families is only open from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m….it’s still not an option for those whose jobs require an early start or who find it challenging to leave work, fight traffic and make it through the door of the day care before the five-minute grace period expires and late fees begin accruing at a rate of $5 a minute.

Worst of all, the system shortchanges our kids. Fewer than half of incoming kindergarten students are prepared for the challenges of the classroom.

Campbell closes her article with a question:

And while I fully support higher pay for “educarers,” the million-dollar question is how to make that happen and still be affordable to the parents who are barely scraping by.

The Early Childhood Educator Career Ladder is a proven answer to that question. Washington would reap huge benefits from it – if our elected leaders would only fund it fully.

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