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Perspective | North Carolina’s working families need more child care legislation

During a time of increasing polarization in our country, it’s important to highlight the initiatives both sides of the aisle can get behind. In North Carolina, where more than 80,000 kids are left without access to licensed child care when their parent or parents go to work, it’s safe to say child care should be one of these bipartisan priorities. Fortunately, Republicans and Democrats in Washington, D.C. are coming together to tackle this issue and to address the increasing costs and demand for child care facing working families.

The numbers surrounding child care in North Carolina are staggering. There are nearly 460,000 children under the age of 6 with all parents in the labor force. There are over 6,000 licensed center-based and family child care homes in the state, but they provide just 380,000 licensed child care slots. Altogether, 44% of North Carolina residents live in what’s known as a “child care desert.”

The term “child care deserts” refers to communities that have more than three children for every licensed child care slot. These deserts occur in thousands of communities around the country, including those we least expect. Affordable child care remains a big problem in some of North Carolina’s most vibrant cities including Durham, Greensboro, and even Charlotte. Thankfully, legislation that has been introduced in the U.S. Senate would go a long way toward increasing access to child care.

The Child Care Workforce and Facilities Act, a bipartisan bill written jointly by Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Senator Dan Sullivan (R-AK), would provide competitive grants to support the education, training or retention of the child care workforce. This legislation is similar to the Teacher Education and Compensation Helps (T.E.A.C.H.) Early Childhood Scholarship Program that Child Care Services Association created in 1990 in North Carolina. The program was developed in order to address the issues of under-education, poor compensation and high turnover within the early childhood workforce. Twenty-two states and Washington, D.C. have also adopted the T.E.A.C.H. program which has led to the creation of the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood National Center and served over 165,000 educators reaching millions of children.

We should applaud North Carolina for being a leader in tackling an issue that greatly impacts the most vulnerable in our society. The Child Care Workforce and Facilities Act would also help to build, renovate or expand child care facilities in areas with child care shortages nationwide. In light of the fact that in many states the average cost of infant care is now higher than the annual cost of college tuition, this represents much-needed and welcome reform. Child care deserts are harming our children today and limiting North Carolina’s potential for future economic growth.

The Child Care Workforce and Facilities is also rightly being praised by independent child advocacy groups. When announcing the legislation, Mark Shriver, President of Save the Children Action Network, said that the legislation “will ensure that more parents can enter or remain in the workforce while knowing their children are enrolled in the type of quality care that lays a strong foundation for their future success.”

Access to quality, affordable child care is key to the North Carolina of the future, but also the North Carolina of now. It’s essential to helping build a thriving state and national economy, yet for far too many families in North Carolina this reality remains out of reach. The Child Care Workforce and Facilities Act will ensure that more parents can enter or remain in the workforce while knowing their children are enrolled in the type of quality child care that lays a strong foundation for their future success. By supporting this legislation, Senators Richard Burr and Thom Tillis would illustrate their commitment to embrace bipartisan solutions for this child care supply issue that is far too costly to ignore.

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Marsha Basloe

Marsha Basloe is president of the Child Care Services Association.