Two recent articles (“In academia, a caste system for parents,” Page A1, Dec. 1; “Poor workers struggling with a child-care debt trap,” Page A1, Dec. 2) demonstrate that parents at every income level struggle to afford quality early care and education because of the high cost.
The responsibility of paying for K-12 public education falls on us all, regardless of whether we have children. But parents of young children bear nearly all of the expenses related to early care and education. Although these costs are high, data from Massachusetts suggest that they would be even higher if early educators were not, in effect, subsidizing our system by working for poverty wages.
The 2018 Massachusetts Early Care and Education Workforce Study found that nearly 30 percent of early educators receive at least two forms of public assistance to meet basic needs, such as housing. The compensation they received for their work in no way matched their professional credentials or their skills and responsibilities.
A survey of early education available in Boston found that in 2017, there were almost 41,000 children age 5 or younger living in the city, with just 932 licensed providers of early childhood education offering 26,278 seats. Clearly, this isn’t sustainable.
For innovative financing ideas, we can look to the US military, which identified the lack of quality options for child care as a military readiness issue. In the mid-1980s, the Department of Defense noted that many service members were abandoning the armed forces, citing a lack of education options for their young children. In response, Congress passed the Military Child Care Act of 1989, which caps fees for families based on income, with the military making up the difference. Teachers earn more than their civilian counterparts while also receiving annual raises and health care and retirement benefits.
Whatever we end up doing — and we must do something — will require financial investment from both the public and private sectors.
The writer is an associate professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston, where she also directs the bachelor’s and post-master’s certificate programs in early education and care.