Child care funding controversial among area legislators

Boosting government funding to solve the child care crisis garnered mixed support from Dayton region legislators responding to questions about an issue that is hammering families and hindering businesses looking for workers.

Seven of the Dayton region’s 27 members of Congress and the Ohio Legislature responded to this newspaper’s questions about growing calls for reforms, including additional funding, to resolve the child care crisis and expand preschool options.

A Dayton Daily News investigation published on Sept. 12 found wide support among parents, child care providers, advocates, educators and business leaders for increased funding for child care and preschool. Among the findings:

“The idea that the market can take care of this challenge is just a fallacy. We know this is a broken market,” said Warren County Commissioner Shannon Jones, a Republican former state legislator who is president and CEO of Groundwork Ohio, a Columbus-based nonprofit child advocacy group. “I understand that there are not unlimited resources and we have to be able to make choices. But we know that quality child care has some of the highest return on public investment.”

The most prominent source of possible new funding is the federal government after President Joe Biden released his Build Back Better plan that includes a broad range of “human infrastructure” proposals, addressing child care and early learning, education and workforce development, elder care, health care, housing and climate change.

Credit: Jim Noelker

Credit: Jim Noelker

Congressional Democrats are fleshing out the details of that $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation bill that includes about $450 billion in spending over multiple years on universal preschool and expanded assistance to families for child care costs. The plan also includes measures that would raise the pay of child care workers and preschool teachers and institute new quality standards.

A 10-year federal investment of $450 billion would serve 8.27 million young children annually, including 324,377 in Ohio, in the U.S once it is fully implemented, according to an analysis by the National Women’s Law Center.

“That’s 11 times more than those served without expansion,” according to a law center fact sheet.

Biden has proposed paying for the plan using tax increases for large wealthy corporations.

“By providing assistance to families – like the expanded Child Tax Credit I helped to get included in the American Rescue Plan – we are finally recognizing that caregiving is the work that makes all other work possible,” said U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio. “But we know we need to do more. We must also establish child care and early learning infrastructure that ensures parents have a safe, affordable place for their child to learn and grow.”

Brown supports Biden’s proposal and earlier this year introduced a bill providing grants to improve child care supply, quality and access. Brown also co-sponsored a separate bill that would create a federal state partnership providing financial assistance for child care, expand access to pre-K and boost wages for child care workers. Both of those bills are in committee.

Congressional Republicans, including U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, oppose Biden’s proposal.

“Senator Portman believes that child care is too expensive and is limited in many parts of the country. He also recognizes the incredible challenges that parents have had to endure through the pandemic with at home learning, child care and school closures,” said Emmalee Cioffi, deputy communications director. “Rob worked with both parties to provide an additional $13.5 billion in child care funding to support low-income parents through bipartisan legislation since the pandemic began.”

She called the Biden’s plan a “tax and spending spree that will cost jobs and hurt our economy.”

Responses also came from State Representatives Willis Blackshear Jr., D-Dayton, Tom Young, R-Washington Twp., Andrea White, R-Kettering and Brian Lampton, R-Beavercreek, and State Sen. Niraj Antani, R-Miamisburg. A spokesman for State Sen. Steve Wilson, R-Maineville, said he didn’t have time to comment.

Blackshear supports expanding funding and access to child care and preschool, saying those investments will help families, businesses and the community.

“I believe one of the solutions is that we guarantee child care assistance to low income and middle class families on a sliding scale,” Blackshear said.

Young said he’s promoted early learning for years and that the benefits of broad access to quality child care and preschool are well known.

“It has to be a priority,” Young said. “Secondly its an economic necessity, an economic engine. It will pay its dividends. Should it be a partnership between public and private?”

White didn’t directly address funding but said she supports incentivizing people who would be good teachers to become educators and also requiring quality standards for providers.

“I care very deeply about helping children have quality early learning experiences and safe, nurturing environments so they can be ready for kindergarten and thrive to their fullest potentials,” said White in an email. “The child care crisis exacerbated by the pandemic is a current workforce issue for parents who need child care and a future workforce issue for employers as studies prove that children who enter kindergarten behind are very often still behind in third grade reading, eighth grade math and throughout their high school years.”

Antani said there is a child care crisis and he advocated more competition to drive down the cost of child care. He opposes funding universal pre-K.

“Government can’t pay for everyone to have child care,” Antani said.

Lampton did not directly address the child care problem but said businesses are struggling to find workers.

“I believe the solution is simple, stop funding able bodyworkers to stay home, let’s get every able bodied person back to work,” Lampton said in a statement emailed from his office.

He declined to clarify what funding he was referring to.

Increased child care funding by the numbers

87% support giving tax credits to businesses that help employees access affordable, quality child care.

86% support funding to pay some or all of the cost of quality child care for working families.

84% support providing preschool at no cost to all three- and four-year-olds whose parents want to send them to preschool.

80% support increased federal funding to build new child care facilities.

Source: 2021 national poll by Hart Research/New Bridge Strategy commissioned by First Five Years Fund, a Washington D.C.-based bipartisan early learning and child care advocacy group.

See all stories in the Dayton Daily News investigation of child care challenges:

Child care crisis: Costs, shortage of workers leading to ‘a situation that is untenable’

Mothers pivot, juggle to balance work and child care in pandemic

PHOTOS: Kids persevering in the pandemic while playing, learning

Local child care can cost up to $15,000 for one child

Enrollment dropped for many Preschool Promise providers during pandemic

Child care responsibilities hindered work

Record numbers of women left labor force in 2020

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