Nevada should do more for families who need early childhood education and care

By Elizabeth Dittenber

One year ago my husband and I welcomed a beautiful baby girl into our lives, and we couldn’t be happier. Starting from day one, we wanted to provide all the best opportunities for our daughter to be happy, healthy and successful. That is part of the reason we began to consider early childhood education programs for her to attend. We knew enrolling our daughter in a high-quality learning program would not only allow us to both return to work, but more importantly, it would have a large impact on her school readiness, her long-term social-emotional development and her success later in life.

I looked into the scientific evidence regarding the importance of quality early learning opportunities for children, especially from birth through age five. The information I discovered was a major factor in our decision to find an education program for our daughter in her first year. The research is grounded in brain science, which is conclusive: early experiences affect the development of the brain and lay the foundation for future learning, which includes social-emotional health and moral development.

Additionally, a recent analysis of dozens of early childhood education program evaluations showed positive impacts for program participants in cognitive, language and achievement outcomes. The research was compelling, and seeing our daughter make developmental leaps and bounds when we enrolled her showed us we made the right choice. It is clear to my husband and me that access to a high-quality early childhood education program is helping to lay the strong foundation we want for our daughter.

While trying to provide this life-changing experience for our little one, my husband and I met with great frustration. We had a hard time finding quality affordable care, and we are not alone. In our search for programs, we learned that Nevada’s early childhood education capacity only meets 22 percent of the need for child care for children ages 1-5.

In addition to the limited number of child care programs, my husband and I were extremely shocked at the cost of pre-kindergarten care and education. In Nevada, the average cost of infant care is $10,317 a year, and the average cost of preschool is $8,786. Even for our household, with two adults who work full-time at comfortable jobs, the cost for an early childhood program was an economic burden. We were surprised at the barriers to not only provide our daughter with an amazing opportunity but also to ensure we could both reenter the workforce after my maternity leave. We consider ourselves lucky that we were able to find a high-quality educational facility that had an opening, and that we were able to find a way to afford the tuition. Unfortunately, not all families have the same financial resources and family support.

For families less fortunate than ours, the cost of an early childhood program can be impossible to afford. Many of my peers have had to face the difficult decision of choosing to not return to work because their income would be less than the cost of childcare and transportation. Others don’t even have the luxury of that choice, and their options for childcare are incredibly limited. Sadly, their children miss out on all of the benefits our daughter has experienced in her educational program. The financial burden is a real challenge.

The cost of infant care represents 51 percent of income for a family of three living at 100 percent of poverty, and 40 percent of income for a family of three living at 130 percent of poverty. This is an unrealistic cost for many families to take on. Fortunately, Nevada has the Child Care Subsidy program to assist working families with the high cost of care. Unfortunately, though, this program, like Nevada’s overall child care capacity, is extremely limited and cannot provide assistance to all the families in need. Currently, Nevada serves only 2.32 percent of children living below 200% of poverty through the Child Care Subsidy, leaving many other families with no resources for help with child care. By not providing child care subsidies to families in need, Nevada is forcing many families to forfeit their jobs and stay home with their children. Working families should not be forced into these situations. Their children should not have to miss out on important developmental opportunities during the crucial early age period.

Nevada is not providing the best opportunities for its children to be happy, healthy and successful. All of Nevada's children, regardless of income, deserve access to the same high-quality early learning programs as my daughter. Nevada needs to focus on eliminating the barriers to affordable, quality child care by investing in an early learning infrastructure and Child Care Subsidies. This year, Nevada’s legislators have the chance to make that investment for our children. I strongly encourage the Legislature to prioritize early childhood education in the state budget and to support Senator Farley’s bill (BDR pending) which increases the state investment in the Child Care Subsidy program and establishes a child care business tax credit.

The author is director of Development & Strategic Partnerships at Immunize Nevada.

The feature photo, “Early Childhood Education play 02” by University of the Fraser Valley is licensed under CC BY 2.0