An investment in child care and preschool is an investment in children, families and our entire economy

By Ginger Ward, M.A.Ed., and Mindy Zapata, M.Ed.

Investing in our country’s youngest learners is key to their success in the future — and to ensuring parents can provide for their families today. In our service to the community at Southwest Human Development and Educare Arizona, we have seen the consequences of America’s child care crisis and the negative impact it has had on incredible moms and dads in our community who simply want to work or attend school and provide their kids with the best start in life. Congress has a chance to invest in an early learning system that works for working families and eliminates the barriers that so many parents face in accessing high-quality child care options that make work possible. By doing so, all Arizonans stand to benefit. 

At Southwest Human Development and Educare Arizona, we are committed to dramatically changing the life trajectories of children growing up in families facing the greatest obstacles to success. Overwhelming evidence shows that children from low-income families who experience high-quality early learning and care are more likely to enter kindergarten ready to learn, do well in school and be successful throughout their lives. Their parents, in turn, are able to pursue job or career opportunities that allow them to achieve greater economic security and success.

For most child care facilities throughout Arizona and across the country that rely on a combination of parent fees, as well as state and federal child care assistance funds, providers are forced to strike a hard balance between charging rates that are high enough to cover operating expenses, but low enough that families in their area can afford. Oftentimes, this can translate into near-poverty wages for early educators. Currently, one in seven child care workers, many with their own children to support, are living below the federal poverty line, and only 15% have access to health care.

On average in Arizona, parents with kids under age 6 spend close to $10,000 per year per child on child care. What’s more, nearly half of Arizona residents live in a child care desert, with only one child care slot for every three children who need care. And so often, the impact of child care challenges falls directly on mothers. Sixty-one percent of women with at least one child under the age of 6 report caretaking as the reason they experienced joblessness, according to Census data. 

There is no question that child care is essential — for families, businesses and the economy. But until we take steps to ensure every family who needs it can find and afford care, the nation’s child care crisis will only get worse.

Fortunately, Congress is considering a proposal with funding for federal-state partnerships that would make child care available and affordable to all families who need it while guaranteeing they can continue to choose the provider that best meets their needs. These are not small investments, but given the role the child care system in our country plays, the positive impact will be immediate, lasting and far-reaching.

We’ve been encouraged by the bipartisan support for child care and early learning over recent years. It was the late Senator John McCain who highlighted the positive impact of early childhood education, saying, “Through its early learning opportunities, Educare Arizona’s impact on our state’s children represents an investment in our community, our economy and our future.” And earlier this summer, Governor Doug Ducey noted, “Parents and families need access to safe, reliable and high-quality child care, especially as Arizonans go back to work and job opportunities expand.” 

Our representatives in Washington, including Senators Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly, have an opportunity to ensure more Arizona parents can give their kids a strong start in life while pursuing their own American dream. By passing the proposed child care and preschool investments included in the president’s Build Back Better agenda, Congress would be sending the message that they support our families and want to eliminate barriers to work for parents with young children. For our kids, families and our economy, let’s invest in what works: high-quality child care and early learning.

Ginger Ward, M.A.Ed, is chief executive officer and Mindy Zapata, M.Ed., is the director of Early Head Start and Head Start at Southwest Human Development and Educare Arizona. To learn more about Southwest Human Development, visit www.swhd.org. To learn more about Educare Arizona, visit www.educarearizona.org.