As mothers and advocates, we know how important access to high-quality, affordable child care is for families across Rhode Island. Not only does child care offer a stable, nurturing, enriching environment for kids, it is a key part of Rhode Island’s economic recovery after over two years of the pandemic, allowing parents to remain in, or rejoin, the workforce.
We also know how challenging it is for child-care programs, both centers and family child-care providers, to deliver safe, quality, enriching care right now. Staffing challenges and costs have escalated over the last 20 years. Too many early care and education professionals — many of whom are women of color — are struggling with low wages, high out-of-pocket costs, lack of retirement plans or savings, inadequate paid sick time, and unaffordable health insurance. This has led to many caregivers leaving the field or struggling to keep their doors open. At the same time, too many families are unable to cope with the high costs of child care. Our child-care sector is now at its breaking point.
But we have hope! Strong leaders across the country have made significant improvements to their child-care systems. New York State is doubling spending on child care, raising rates paid to providers and dramatically expanding family eligibility so that families who make up to $83,000 per year can get help. New Mexico has an even stronger plan to expand help to almost all families in the state.
Washington, D.C., approved a new tax to fund a permanent Early Educator Pay Equity Fund and has already authorized a $10,000 to $14,000 pay supplement to child-care educators in the District, including classroom teachers, assistant teachers, and family child-care providers. After passing unanimously in both the House and Senate, Maine is also funding a tiered program to increase the compensation of child-care educators across the state.
We urge the Rhode Island General Assembly to act boldly to help children, families, and child-care providers get on stronger footing by passing the Child Care Is Essential Act to increase provider rates and expand family access to child care. We also urge passage of the Early Educator Investment Act, which would allow the state to implement the Child Care Wages model, providing more funds to stabilize the child-care sector by keeping educators who have skills and knowledge in programs where they can provide enriching learning experiences to children.
These proposals are needed in Rhode Island. They build on important investments made by the General Assembly in FY22 and Governor McKee’s FY23 budget proposal, and can be sustained. Just last week, leaders in the U.S. Senate released a compromise plan to triple the federal funding sent to states for child care.
Child care is essential to our young children, to working families, and to our economy. That is why now is the time for bold action at both the state and federal levels to invest in our child-care infrastructure.
Investing in child care so families can work and children can thrive is cost effective and critical for America’s and Rhode Island’s economic prosperity.
Leanne Barrett is a Senior Policy Analyst at Rhode Island KIDS COUNT and Nicole O’Loughlin is Executive Director of the Rhode Island SEIU State Council.