Every child deserves an opportunity to succeed – it’s a phrase we hear over and over again. There are many ways we can improve the lives of our children – quality health care, paid parental leave, increasing the minimum wage, proper behavioral health programs – but we can really make a difference for entire families if we make sure every parent and child in this country has access to childcare and early learning opportunities.
I know what it’s like to struggle to make ends meet as a parent. When I was raising my daughter, I had the same concerns that all parents living on a limited income have: Is she growing? Is she keeping up with her peers? Is she learning? It was hard to find a pre-school that would accommodate my low income, but like many New Mexico parents I was creative. I found a pre-school that would allow me to clean the school and pay a tuition I could afford, so Somah could attend. Childcare and early learning should not be a luxury that only people with money have access to, but right now that seems like the status quo in this country.
Childcare is a constant struggle for many parents, and often it’s a barrier that holds families back from the prosperity they seek. Without access to childcare, moms and dads are less likely to take extra classes at the university or community college or go above and beyond to get that promotion at work. On top of that, kids lose the advantage of the many enrichment and learning opportunities that quality childcare programs can provide.
The bill Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and I introduced is a bold and comprehensive proposal to provide universal childcare and early learning for all families. What we’re proposing is a mandatory investment in our future – in our kids – that bolsters locally run programs that already exist and creates a network of childcare and early learning opportunities. We know that part of the struggle is the shortage of childcare and early childhood education professionals, so our bill would invest in training and pay for those professionals that care for our children. It’s a job that is needed and should be valued by everyone.
Our Universal Childcare and Early Learning bill guarantees access by making childcare and early learning free for families below 200 percent of the federal poverty level (around $50,000 for a family of four). And it goes even further with subsidized costs on a sliding scale for all families, just like we already see in the military child care program. The result would be that no family has to pay more than 7 percent of their income for a high quality public child care option.
If we make this bold solution a priority, the outcomes will have lasting effects. Children who have access to early childhood learning are more likely to attend college and more likely to end the cycle of poverty.
Right now, early childhood education is something that only people with money have access to, and people without the means have to “figure it out.” Many children fall further and further behind and families continue to struggle. We shouldn’t have to “figure it out” when it comes to the future of our kids.
Some may argue that this bold solution would cost too much, but they’re not looking at what’s at stake. It’s even riskier not to invest in early childhood education. A child’s success should not be measured in dividends. Even by the nay-sayer’s argument, an investment in early childhood education is more secure than any stock market gamble. For every dollar invested in early childhood learning programs, the return can be as much as eight dollars.
I struggled to ensure Somah had the early learning she needed and today, she’s a University of New Mexico graduate with the world at her finger tips. Don’t all our children deserve that? Don’t our families deserve to know that their children will have more opportunities than their parents had?
That’s why we must secure universal childcare that is both affordable and high quality. Universal childcare that is free for those families who need it and affordable for all has the power to transform the lives of millions of families across this country. I know how much of a difference free childcare would have made to my life when my daughter was young, and I am so grateful that I am now in a position to be working on legislation that can make that a reality.
Haaland represents New Mexico’s 1st District.