Child-Care Advocates Pin Hopes on Tobacco-Settlement Proposal
There has been little for child-care advocates to celebrate since President Clinton announced a $21.7 billion plan in January to make high-quality care more affordable.
Dozens of child-care initiatives have been introduced in Congress, but none has received significant support.
Those who want more money spent on child care now say their best hopes lie with a bipartisan proposal in the Senate to target funds from a tobacco settlement toward child-care subsidies and other early-childhood programs.
The proposed Youth Smoking Reduction Amendment, sponsored by Sens. Christopher S. Bond, R-Mo., and John Kerry, D-Mass., would earmark $6 billion over five years for expanding and improving child-care programs, including those that serve school-age children.
Supporters of the amendment say that involving youngsters in high-quality after-school programs could reduce smoking among youths.
But critics say that is just a convenient connection to make. "Everybody wants that money, but it doesn't necessarily mean they need it," said Darcy Olsen, an entitlements-policy analyst at the Cato Institute, a Washington think tank.
The money would flow through the federal Child Care and Development Block Grant, giving states the flexibility to direct the money toward their greatest needs. ("Clinton Proposes $22 Billion in New Child-Care Initiatives," Jan. 14, 1998.)
"It's a down payment. It won't get us all the money that we need," Marian Wright Edelman, the president of the Washington-based Children's Defense Fund, said during a recent conference call with reporters that coincided with the release of the advocacy group's newest study.
''Child Care Challenges" is a 50-state report examining such issues as the affordability, quality, and availability of child-care programs nationwide. Other topics covered in the report include training of child-care providers and monitoring of programs.
Question of Priorities?
Using data from local and statewide child-care resource and referral agencies, the report says that parents of young children face larger--and more immediate--expenses than college tuition. The annual cost of child care for infants and preschoolers can add up to be much higher--sometimes twice as high--than tuition at in-state public colleges.
Care for a 4-year-old in a licensed, urban child-care center averages $3,000 a year, and the cost was more than $5,000 per child in 17 states, the study found.
In Wake County, N.C., for example, in the Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill "research triangle" area, annual child-care costs for a 4-year-old average $5,068, while the average cost of in-state tuition at a public college for a year was $1,841, the report says.
And infant care is even more expensive.
In California, where tuition at public colleges averages $2,731 a year, care for a 1-year-old averages $7,020.
"And all of this is just for one child. Obviously, many parents have more than one child," said Gina Adams, a senior program associate in the CDF's child-care division. She co-wrote the report with Karen Schulman, a program assistant.
Ellen Lubell, the spokeswoman for the New York City-based Child Care Action Campaign, said she was glad to see another organization bringing the comparison between child-care costs and college tuition to the public's attention.
"We've been beating this drum for a year now," she said.
She added that while parents often have years to save for their children's college educations, child-care costs come when parents are usually just starting out and haven't had time to put money aside.
But others question the CDF's comparison of college tuition and child-care costs. "It doesn't sound right," said Danielle Crittenden, who edits The Women's Quarterly, the journal of the conservative Independent Women's Forum in Arlington, Va.
"Most parents don't even pay for child care," Ms. Crittenden said, adding that most children are cared for by their parents, relatives, or neighbors.
The CDF report also says that there are not enough inspectors to visit centers and family child-care homes and that child-to-staff ratios are often higher than recommended.
Those are some of the reasons why the CDF and other child-care advocates are lobbying for as much as $20 billion in federal spending over five years, either from tobacco legislation or other sources. The current funding for the Child Care and Development Block Grant, the federal government's largest child-care program, is about $3 billion.
Other child-care proposals introduced this year include tax credits that would benefit families in which one parent stays home with the children. While favored by many Republicans, critics contend that approach pits working mothers against stay-at-home mothers.
Vol. 17, Issue 39, Page 23