Child Care

Amendment G one pager 10 5 20

The state's leading child research and advocacy organization Voices for Utah Children announced its opposition to Constitutional Amendment G in an online press conference today (Monday, October 5, 2020).  

Constitutional Amendment G is the proposal to amend the Utah State Constitution to end the Constitutional earmark of all income tax revenues for education.  Since 1946 Utah has dedicated 100% of income tax revenues to education, initially defined only as K-12 education and, since 1996, including also higher education.  The State Legislature voted in March to place on the ballot the question of also allowing these funds to be used for other purposes -- specifically for programs for children and for Utahns with disabilities.  

The arguments made by proponents and opponents are summarized in an online document prepared by the state election administrators in the Lt Governor's office. According to that document, "the state spends about $600 million annually of non-income tax money on programs for children and programs that benefit people with a disability."

Voices for Utah Children CEO Maurice "Moe" Hickey explained the organization's decision to oppose the Amendment: "We believe that the proposed Amendment not only won’t solve Utah’s state budget woes, it is likely to delay the real fiscal policy changes that are needed. Over the past decade we have been continuously ranked last in the country for per pupil spending. This is a caused by our growth in number of students, combined with a lowered tax burden in the past decade. A major question we have to ask is “if the current Constitutional earmark has failed to help Utah invest more in education, how will getting rid of it improve matters?” The unfortunate reality is that getting rid of the Constitutional earmark of income tax for education does nothing to solve the real problem, which is the fact that nearly every area of state responsibility where children are impacted – education, social services, public health, and many others – is dangerously underfunded."

Health Policy Analyst Ciriac Alvarez Valle said, "Utah has one of the highest rates of uninsured children in the country at 8% or 82,000 children, and we have an even higher rate of uninsured Latino children at almost 20%. It is alarming that even during this pandemic, children and families are going without health insurance. There are so many ways to reverse this negative trend that began in 2016. Some of the solutions include investing in our kid’s healthcare. By investing in outreach and enrollment efforts especially those that are culturally and linguistically appropriate for our communities of color, we can ensure they are being reached. We also have to invest in policies that keep kids covered all year round and ensures they have no gaps in coverage. and lastly, we have to invest in covering all children regardless of their immigration status. By doing these things we can ensure that kids have a foundation for their long term health and needs. It's vital that we keep children’s health at the forefront of this issue, knowing that kids can only come to school ready to learn if they are able to get the resources they need to be healthy."

Health Policy Analyst Jessie Mandle added, "All kids need to have care and coverage in order to succeed in school. We are no strangers to the funding challenges and the many competing demands of social services funding. Without greater clarity, more detail, and planning, we are left to ask, are we simply moving the funding of children’s health services into another pool, competing with education funding, instead of prioritizing and investing in both critical areas? Sufficient funding for critical children’s services including school nurse, home visiting and early intervention, and school-based preventive care remains a challenge for our state. We have made important strides in recent years for children’s health, recognizing that kids cannot be optimal learners without optimal health. Let’s keep investing, keep moving forward together so that kids can get the education, health and wraparound services they need."

Education Policy Analyst Anna Thomas: "We often hear that UT is dead last in the nation in per pupil funding. We have also heard from such leaders as Envision Utah that millions of dollars are needed to avert an urgent and growing teacher shortage. What we talk about less is the fact that these typical conservative calculations of our state’s underfunding of education don’t include the amount the state should be paying for the full-day kindergarten programming most Utah families want, nor does it include the tens of millions our state has never bothered to spend on preschool programs to ensure all Utah children can start school with the same opportunities to succeed. Utah currently masks this underfunding with dollars from various federal programs, but this federal funding is not equitably available to meet the needs of all Utah children who deserve these critical early interventions. The state also increasingly relies on local communities to make up the difference through growing local tax burdens - which creates an impossible situation for some of our rural school districts, where local property tax will never be able to properly fund early interventions like preschool and full-day kindergarten along with everything else they are responsible for. Our lack of investment in early education is something we pay for, much less efficiently and much less wisely, later down the road, when children drop out of school, experience mental and physical health issues, and get pulled into bad decisions and misconduct. If kids aren’t able to hit certain learning benchmarks in literacy and math by third grade, their struggles in school - and often by extension outside of school - multiply. We should be investing as much as possible in our children to help ensure they have real access to future success - and can contribute to our state's future success. You don’t have to be a math whiz - third grade math is probably plenty - to see that the general arithmetic of Amendment G, and the attendant promises of somehow more investment in everything that helps kids - just doesn’t add up. We have multiple unmet early education investment obligations right now. Beyond that, we have many more needs, for children and for people with disabilities, that we must be sensitive to as a state especially during a global pandemic. How we will ensure we are investing responsibly in our children and our future, by having MORE expenses come out of the same pot of money - which the legislature tells us every year is too small to help all the Utah families we advocate for - is still very unclear to me. Until that math is made transparent to the public, we have to judge Amendment G to be, at best, half-baked in its current incarnation."

Fiscal Policy Analyst Matthew Weinstein shared information from the Tax Commission (see slide #8) showing that Utah's overall level of taxation is now at its lowest level in 50 years relative to Utahns' incomes, following multiple rounds of tax cutting. He also shared recent survey data from the Utah Foundation showing that three-fourths of Utahns oppose cutting taxes further and are ready and willing to contribute more if necessary to help solve the state's current challenges in areas like education, air quality, and transportation. He contrasted the public's understanding that there's no "free lunch" with the unrealistic election-year promises made by our political leadership -- more money for both education and social services if the public votes for Amendment G -- even though Amendment G does nothing to reverse any past tax breaks and address the state's chronic revenue shortages.

The organization shared a one-page summary of the arguments for and against the proposed Constitutional Amendment: 

Amendment G one pager 10 5 20

The organization also published a full five-page position paper that is available in pdf format

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For years, advocates (like me) have avoided mentioning the fact – at least, in the presence of legislators – that Utah families rely on school not just for education, but also for reliable and high quality child care. 

Similarly, until very recently, many Utah policymakers were ignorant of the fact that child care – especially for infants, toddlers and pre-school aged children – is possibly the most critical education Utah families will ever invest in. 

COVID-19 has made all this denial of reality much more difficult.

Right now, education administrators throughout the state are wondering how they could manage to implement a “staggered schedule” in their schools, when doing so would mean that teachers with school-aged children would require paid child care for half the workweek.

Parents working from home are realizing how much personal attention and educational interaction their children are able to receive in child care settings while they are working. Perhaps initially thrilled to save money on child care expenses, they are gaining renewed (perhaps desperate) appreciation for the intense, valuable work performed by their child care providers. 

Families throughout the state are struggling with a diminished roster of summer camps, summer programs and summers schools. They are wondering how they are going to manage the cost of additional hours of child care that may be necessary in the fall, depending on how individual school districts choose to “re-open” their schools.

Utah families and educators are all re-learning, under great pandemic-driven duress, something that has been the truth for decades: school is child care, and child care is school. 

In Utah, about 47% of all kids under age six, who are living with both parents, have both of those parents in the workforce.* Among kids between 6 and 17, who are living with both parents, that number jumps to 57%.* That increase represents a lot of Utah parents, going back to work, as soon as their young kids are able to attend kindergarten. 

More than 54,000 children under the age of six live with only one parent.* For 83% of those young children, the single parent they live with is in the workforce.* Among kids between 6 and 17, who are living with only one parent, that number jumps to 98%.* Again, that increase represents a lot of Utah parents, going back to work, as soon as their young kids are able to head off to public school. 

The vast majority of Utah parents  appreciate that for six or seven hours a day, five days a week, for around 36 weeks out of the year, they are able to put their children in the care of trained professionals, in a relatively safe environment, at little or no cost to their family. 

Their children are being educated in all manner of subjects, and they are learning to socialize with other children from different families and backgrounds. They also are under the watchful eye of educators acting “in loco parentis,” a common law principle that empowers educators to take on some of the functions and responsibilities of a parent during school hours and activities. 

This all-encompassing educational and social experience is provided to Utah families largely for free – by law – because primary education is regarded generally as a public good. Ensuring that all people receive a basic level of education, regardless of their ability to pay for it otherwise, is good for all of us. Public education advances important goals like equal opportunity, work force preparation and an educated populace. 

Most Utah parents feel comfortable reading, writing, doing basic math, socializing with other people, finding (some) foreign countries on a map, and playing sports. But, as the pandemic lockdown has reminded so many, not all Utah parents feel qualified to be primarily responsible for teaching their children how to do all those things. No wonder fewer than 5% of school-aged children in Utah are homeschooled.** 

It just so happens that public education also provides hundreds of hours of free, high-quality child care to Utah families while accomplishing those important societal goals. School is many things, and yes, it is also child care. 

The more we learn about the incredible amount of brain development that occurs in early childhood, the stranger it seems that we, as a society, are still unwilling to acknowledge the reverse: child care is many things, and yes, it is also school.

Many Utah policymakers and elected officials still insist that “child care is a family issue” that should be left up to families to figure out. Families with young children are expected to either care for their children all day, or find someone else to do it for them. Under this model, all the inconvenience, confusion and cost associated with child care fall on individual families.

But our demographics show that this approach is painfully outdated. 

Nearly 54% of all Utah children under age six live in a household with all available parents working. The parents of those children are not in a position to fulfill all the responsibilities of teaching, socializing, reading and playing with their children. Those families need the support of child care professionals who, in addition to providing a safe and caring environment for children while their parents are working, are also teaching, socializing, reading and playing with those children. 

Unlike public school, however, there is an enormous cost associated with this invaluable service. Subsidies are only available to those Utah families making the least amount of money, while almost all Utah families (of any income level) struggle to afford the cost of child care for infants, toddlers, and preschool-aged children. 

Most families can’t homeschool their school-aged children, because they work outside the home (or inside the home for many due to COVID19). Most families also can’t pay for private school, because they don’t make enough money from their work outside the home. Luckily, public school is available for all those families. 

Most families can’t stay home to care for and teach their infant, toddler and pre-school aged children, because they work outside the home. Yet, we still expect them to pay for child care, even when they don’t make enough money from their work outside the home to afford the early care and education their children deserve. 

We need to stop tip-toeing around the fact that Utah families rely on school not just for education, but for safe and highly-effective child care. We need to embrace it. At the same time, we need to embrace the reverse truth: that safe, high-quality childcare is also the equivalent of “school” for young children. 

Safe, effective, high-quality care and education for Utah children of all ages is a public good. Treating child care and public education as part of the same important system of learning and development will create enormous benefit for these children, and, by extension, the rest of the state. 

* Figures from the 2018 American Community Survey, accessed at data.census.gov

** Calculated from data made available by the Utah State Board of Education on homeschooled children and public school enrollment in the 2015-16 school year (the most recent data reported on the USBE website at https://www.schools.utah.gov/data/reports?mid=1424&tid=4).

Special thanks to Erin Jemison, formerly of YWCA Utah and now with Community Resources for Justice's Crime & Justice Institute, for contributions to this post. 

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Child care in Utah has always been critical to our state's economic health - and to the health, safety and well-being of the children of working families. In the current emergency situation, the preservation and support of this sector is even more urgent. We know that our state and local leaders are doing their best to support child care providers and working families in this time of incredible disruption and uncertainty. Those leaders need financial support and resources from the federal government to ensure that our local child care providers survive this unprecedented disruption to their service provision. 

In support of the efforts of our national advocacy partners, who are leading the charge with regards to federal policy to protect and sustain the child care sector, we are publishing in its entirety this press release from the National Association for the Education of Young Children and the Early Care & Education Consortium. Released early Sunday morning (March 22), it calls for immediate federal acknowledgement of the urgent need for intervention on behalf of our child care sector across the country. 

pdfWithout Immediate Relief, More than Half of Licensed Child Care Will Close in Next Week

National Industry Organizations Call on Congress for $50 Billion in Urgent Stimulus

WASHINGTON (March 22, 2020)--Today, the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and the Early Care and Education Consortium (ECEC) joined advocacy organizations from around the United States in making a request for up to $50 billion in emergency stimulus funding to keep the child care industry from collapsing.

To support American families, sustain industries that are necessary in this public health crisis, and buttress the herculean efforts of medical professionals, lawmakers must recognize child care as the backbone. Yet, NAEYC and ECEC data show that within the past week, child care has lost upwards of 70 percent of daily attendance and that most providers have just a week until they will close their doors, in many instances, permanently.

The immediate and sustained hit from the COVID-19 crisis is devastating. “We are calling on Congress to take swift and immediate action to stabilize an essential yet economically fragile industry,” said NAEYC CEO Rhian Allvin. “In order to stabilize this field, continue to provide essential services for families who need it, and be prepared to support the workforce after this crisis, we are requesting up to $50 billion in emergency stimulus funding.”

“We estimate that without immediate financial support thousands of child care centers and family child care homes will be unable to cover their fixed costs within the next month,” said ECEC Executive Director Radha Mohan. “Providers need a quick and simple way to access emergency assistance in order to do things like pay occupancy costs, maintain payroll and benefits, and pay incentive pay to those educators and support staff willing to continue to work to care for the children of essential personnel for the duration of this crisis.”

Two million early childhood educators comprise the child care workforce. At this swift rate of closures, immediate unemployment of more than half the workforce is inevitable. Little Learners Child Care Center is the only center based child care in Norman County, MN. Little Learners is housed on the samecampus as a nursing home, residential assisted living apartments, hospital, and clinic and provides daily intergenerational activities to those living on site. Center director Karen DeVos said, “this is the most devastating experience of my career. We are currently losing tuition but our costs are increasing to meet the small group size recommendations that allow us to serve children safely. Without help soon, we will be forced to close, leaving 14 staff members without jobs and many families in the emergency and health care fields without care.”

“We are in a no-win situation” said Chad Dunkley, President and CEO of New Horizon Academy, a Minnesota-based chain of child care centers. “We are working hard to support our employees who have been classified as essential, but have been forced already to begin substantial furloughing due to this crisis. We are a family-owned business, and without immediate emergency support, our 88 centers serving 11,000 children across the country will close in a month.”

Both NAEYC and ECEC are partnering with governors across the country to systematically support ongoing child care for an essential workforce. As crucial decisions are being made to protect the health and safety of children, health workers, and educators, “it is imperative that Governors not stand up provisional, unlicensed, and barely regulated child care that could endanger children,” said Jo Kirchner, CEO of Primrose School Franchising Company. Tom Wyatt, CEO of KinderCare added, “We urge Governors to coordinate with existing licensed and regulated providers to ensure the continuity of care and the health and safety for children of essential workers.”

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NAEYC’s vision is that all young children thrive and learn in a society dedicated to ensuring they reach their full potential. NAEYC promotes high-quality early learning for all children, birth through age 8, by connecting practice, policy and research. We advance a diverse, dynamic early childhood profession and support all who care for, educate, and work on behalf of young children.

The Early Care and Education Consortium (ECEC) is a non-profit alliance for the leading high-quality multi-state/multi-site childcare and education providers, state associations, and premier educational services providers, representing over 6,000 programs, that collectively serve one million children across the U.S. Our Members serve as the unified voice for providers of high-quality programs and services that support families and children from diverse cultural and socio-economic backgrounds. We are advocates for strong federal and state policies that bring quality to scale.

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Governor Herbert released his 2018 budget last week, and we at Voices for Utah Children are thrilled with the emphasis on investing in our kids through education. Clearly, our state leaders understand that education is critical to Utah’s future. We can’t expect to develop the workforce of tomorrow, without investing in education today, right?

Who, then, are the “workers of today,” who are responsible for developing our workforce of tomorrow? According to the Governor’s Office, parents, of course, and definitely our hardworking school teachers.

There is an additional group of professionals who play a critical role in Utah children’s lives and development, but who were largely overlooked in the Governor’s budget: child care providers.

And if Utah continues to overlook this under-staffed and under-appreciated sector, our future can’t be as bright as the Governor hopes.

The Governor’s budget emphasizes the importance of an “educated workforce,” and an educational system that produces the kind of workers sought by “high-value firms.”

The term “high-value firm” probably causes many Utahns to think of Silicon Slopes, or Main Street Salt Lake, where prominent firms like Adobe and Goldman Sachs have set up shop in recent years.

But when I hear “high value,” I can’t help but think of the tireless providers of quality childcare in our state. They aren’t afforded anything close to the prestige enjoyed by software designers or investment bankers.  They certainly aren’t compensated at a level that appropriately reflects the importance of their work, which includes laying the foundation of early education for thousands of Utah children.

They should be, though. On both counts. After all, they are providing a valuable service that our state workforce can’t function without.

According to the U.S. Census, more than half of all of Utah’s young children (under age 6) live in a home where all available parents work. This includes families with single parents, as well as families that need the contributions of two wage earners in order to make ends meet.

That’s more than 150,000 young children potentially in need of child care.

With around 41,000 available child care slots for kids of all ages statewide, the need is much greater than our child care sector can currently meet.

Private providers of child care – whether through childcare centers or via a family caregiver – do their best to provide high quality care that includes intentional instruction, spontaneous play, a safe environment and nurturing attention. In the words of Louise Stoney, co-founder of the Alliance for Early Childhood Finance, private providers tend to be “rooted in communities, connected to faith and neighborhood-based services, and trusted by families.”

This is valuable work. It deserves to be highly valued, as well. 

Providing a safe, educational and supportive child care environment takes time, energy and – of course – plenty of financial investment. In fact, it is so expensive to provide high quality childcare to the families that most need it, that private providers can’t charge enough to cover their costs. To do so would price many low- and middle-income working families out of child care altogether.

Accordingly, many providers operate on a financial razor’s edge, with very little left over when the bills are paid. There are licensing and credential requirements, the cost of food and materials, the cleaning and upkeep of buildings. Many struggle to end each year in the black. That makes it very, very difficult to pay child care practitioners – the people who watch over and interact with Utah children while their parents contribute to our powerhouse economy – anything close to what they deserve to make.

Despite the incredibly important work they do, keeping our children safe and contributing to the “early architecture” of their developing brains, childcare professionals make an average of $22,310 a year. That’s less than $11 an hour.

Understandably, retention is a constant struggle in the child care field. Even as employers invest in higher quality child care offerings – providing educational opportunities and certifications for their workers, for example - they watch their increasingly-qualified employees leave for more lucrative jobs elsewhere.

Child care practitioners would like to make more; their employers would like to pay them more. The necessary shoe-string budgeting, unfortunately, simply does not work in favor of these important “early teachers” of our children.

While Governor Herbert did not explicitly mention high quality childcare in his budget, he did emphasize the importance of funding “high-quality preschool services for disadvantaged students and those at risk of academic failure. We would encourage the Governor and his staff to begin to think of childcare, including that provided by private business, as part of that critical early education equation.

We are hopeful that, with support from the Governor’s Office, our highly competent Department of Workforce Services can develop innovative ways to support what is at the same time a very important sector of our economy, and a critical contributor to early education.

Early childcare providers make workforce participation possible for so many Utahns. They play an important role in getting low-income and struggling families back to work. We need to start caring about them, as much as we want them to be caring about our kids.  

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