The U.S. is a child care outlier

The U.S. is a child care outlier

Child care has emerged as a central feature of the Build Back Better Act, the package proposed by President Joe Biden and congressional Democrats that remains locked in negotiations. As Claire Cain Miller writes for the New York Times, this is because, among developed economies around the world, the United States is a major outlier in how little it contributes toward the cost of raising young children. 

The U.S. spends 0.2 percent of its G.D.P. on child care for children 2 and under — which amounts to about $200 a year for most families, in the form of a once-a-year tax credit for parents who pay for care. The other wealthy countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development spend an average of 0.7 percent of G.D.P. on toddlers, mainly through heavily subsidized child care. Denmark, for example, spends $23,140 annually per child on care for children 2 and under.

This lack of investment comes with serious consequences. A lack of affordable child care creates a barrier to work and puts a major financial strain on families.

“I’ve been writing these reports saying this is a crisis for more than 30 years — it’s not new,” said Gina Adams, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute. “But the pandemic reminded people that child care is a linchpin of our economy. Parents can’t work without it. It’s gotten to a point where the costs of not investing are much, much more clear.”

As Ariana Figueroa reports for States Newsroom, the Build Back Better Act would provide states with federal support and would require states to provide matching funds, a policy design that is similar to Medicaid expansion in the Affordable Care Act:

Under the full $3.5 trillion plan, Congress would allocate $450 billion for universal pre-K as well as child care entitlements. The proposal would create a new partnership between federal, state and local governments to offer free preschool for all 3-and 4-year-olds … If a state chooses to opt into universal preschool, the federal government would pay for the program for the first three years, then scale back until the state is paying up to 40% after five years. 

Slow growth for Louisiana teacher pay
As Louisiana’s schools attempt to recover from years of stagnant education budgets, Covid-19 and two straight years of devastating hurricane seasons,
the state faces another major challenge: teacher salaries grew at the fourth-lowest rate in the United States over the last decade. Sabrina LeBoeuf of the Monroe News-Star writes that Louisiana’s low teacher pay, as well as other state policies that make it more difficult to achieve tenure, have made it difficult for Louisiana schools to keep teachers:

Richard Baker, associate director of the Louisiana State University School of Education, said salaries, along with school leadership, usage of accountability policies and professional treatment of teachers influence teacher retention in schools. “No teacher leaves the classroom because of the students,” Baker said. “I have yet to talk to a teacher that says, ‘I can’t deal with these students anymore. I’m out of here.’ What it usually has to deal with is the working conditions, and those working conditions are influenced by policies, be they state policies, federal policies or local policies.”

Using recovery funds to boost literacy
Earlier this year, the Legislature created a statewide literacy program in honor of the late Rep. Steve Carter, who died of Covid-19. Unfortunately, lawmakers failed to provide any funding for the program, which will cost $159 million a year to operate. To make up for this shortfall, reports Will Sentell of the Advocate, the Louisiana Department of Education will use a portion of the administrative funds it received through the American Rescue Plan Act:

While well below what friends of the late Steve Carter are aiming for, state Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley said he plans to use $40 million in federal stimulus dollars in part to tackle Louisiana’s dismal reading problem … Only 43% of kindergarten students read on grade level, 54% of first graders, 56% of second graders and 53% of third graders.

Work requirements don’t work
Conservatives and some moderates often argue for work requirements for
public benefit programs. But study after study shows that work requirements don’t work: They don’t help people find jobs, but they do cut them off from money they and their families need to buy groceries and meet other basic needs. New research from economists Colin Gray, Adam Leive, Elena Prager, Kelsey Pukelis and Mary Zaki adds to the research consensus that these policies don’t do anything to promote “self-sufficiency.”

As currently designed, SNAP work requirements do not appear to improve economic self-sufficiency while substantially reducing benefits paid to SNAP recipients. On one hand, this makes work requirements costly to society. On the other hand, work requirements save taxpayers money by reducing the number of people receiving benefits. This sets up a trade-off between savings to taxpayers and harm to would-be SNAP recipients. We analysed this trade-off, accounting for the impact on government budgets. The analysis showed that SNAP without work requirements would likely be more effective than other existing programmes at channelling public spending to low-income adults.

Number of the Day
53% – Percentage of Louisiana 3rd graders reading at grade level. (Source: The Advocate)