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Can the American Families Plan help with the high cost of child care?

Proposal caps costs and expands Pre-K programs
Toy room for children classroom preschool daycare
Posted at 2:34 PM, Jun 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-02 16:34:50-04

WASHINGTON — It's no secret that child care is expensive.

According to the advocacy group Child Care Aware, the average cost per year for child care is between $9,200-$9,600 with the costs varying by region.

Gabrielle Alston is one parent struggling. She lives in Washington, D.C. which is routinely ranked as one of the most expensive cities for child care in the country.

Alston, who is currently seeking work, currently pays around $50 a day.

"To me that’s a lot, especially if I don’t have it and got other bills," Alston said.

AMERICAN FAMILIES PLAN

President Biden has promised to address the cost of child care in his American Families Plan, part of a massive multi-trillion dollar infrastructure package Democrats hope to pass this summer.

Under the proposal, families earning less than 1.5 times their state's median income would have child care costs capped at 7 percent of their yearly salary.

It's a potentially game-changing proposal for people like Alston.

"It seem like a good plan, but I guess it depend how much the parent make," Alston said.

PRE-K EXPANSION

Apart from child care spending limits, President Biden wants to expand Pre-K across the country.

Free Pre-K would dramatically offset the cost of child care for parents of three- and four-year-old children.

In exchange for raising income taxes on Americans making more than $450,000 a year and couples making more than $500,000 a year, both goals would be paid for, per the White House plan.

Congress will set the actual income tax brackets and rates later this summer as the bill continues to be negotiated.

While some cities and states offer Pre-K right now, that is not the case in many places.

LOOKING AT D.C. FOR ANSWERS

It's hard to find a city in this country investing more in Pre-K on the local level than Washington, D.C.

Thousands of children are successfully matched each year and enrolled in free public Pre-K programs.

The cost to taxpayers is around $18,000 per child.

Jason Yoho, a kindergarten teacher in Washington, D.C., says it's more than just about saving parents money.

Mr. Yoho, as he is known, says it better prepares kids.

"Those kids when they come into kindergarten they are just ready with those foundational skills," Yoho said.

In regards to the cost, which is triple the national figure, the school district is unapologetic and proud.

"We are proudly one of the districts investing the most in early childhood education," Dr. Lewis Ferebee, D.C. Chancellor for Public Schools, said in a recent interview.

If President Biden's plan were to be approved, Ferebee believes it would expand the program. After all, not every parent gets their child into the program they want.

This year, there were 19,921 applicants for D.C.’s Pre-K program, 6,249 did not get matched.

"We are trying to keep track with demand," Ferebee said.

Doing it right, however, is essential for the program to work, Ferebee cautions.

Teachers in D.C.'s Pre-K program are paid the same as teachers in a high school setting. That is not the case in many cities with similar programs.

"The compensation model is the same whether you teach Pre-K or are a high school chemistry teacher," Ferebee said.

POTENTIAL IMPACTS

Expanding Pre-K education does have consequences, however.

Conor Williams is an academic fellow who studies child care professionally and even enrolled his children in the D.C. program.

Williams says D.C.'s experiment has been widely successful, but there are some noticeable impacts.

Most notably, he says free Pre-K for a three-year-old can increase the cost of daycare for parents of a 1- or 2-year-old.

"Most private care centers make the bulk of their profits on the three and four years old that they serve, it’s much more expensive to pay for a newborn because you need more people," Williams said.

What Williams, Dr. Ferebee, Mr. Yoho, and Gabrielle Alston are all saying will play a big part as Congress debates the American Families Plan in the coming weeks.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi wants a vote in the House on infrastructure by July 4.

It's unclear if she plans on combining the American Jobs Plan, which deals with more traditional infrastructure projects, into one large bill with the American Families Plan or not.