They know that the current system doesn’t work.
It costs so much that it’s actually cheaper to just have one parent stay home and not work and watch the kids.
Missoula businesses don’t like this, as they feel it makes it harder to find qualified workers.
Despite that, Missoula businesses have no plans to increase their near-poverty-level wages so parents could make childcare a bit more affordable.
And boy, is it unaffordable!
Right now it costs $820 a month to send an infant to a preschool, and $700 a month if the child is 1- to 3-years-old.
That comes out to $9,840 and $8,400 a year, respectively.
Let’s add rent to that.
We know that the average cost to rent a 1-bedroom apartment in Missoula is now $581 a month, while a 3-bedroom will cost you $1,136 a month.
That comes out to $6,972 and $13,632, respectively.
So to live and work in Missoula if you have a young child will cost you anywhere between $16,812 and $22,000 a year.
That’s if you’re just living and working here, not eating.
Yeah, we better not get into the cost of food, transportation, healthcare, and the rare chance that you might be able to go out to a restaurant or see a movie...if you have any money left over.
As you can imagine, it’s awfully hard for most working families to live in Missoula.
In fact, the local Chamber of Commerce figures that Missoula families are coming up $16,000 short each year when it comes to the cost of covering childcare, rent, and other needs.
Sure is a problem, huh?
That’s why today I’d like to talk about our early childhood education problem in Missoula, and across the state and the country.
I don’t have a lot of answers.
I do have a lot of research on what others cities and states are doing, however, and that might give us some insight into our own problem.
The Costs of Preschool
In 2018 the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine released a report on how to finance early childhood education.
They pegged the cost of sending a child to a preschool “that has ample, safe facilities, a developmentally appropriate curriculum and well-paid teachers, at about $13,655 per child per year for full-time, full-year preschool.”
Few families could afford that amount, and few can afford the amounts they’re charged now.
Around the country, the price of daycare is out of control.
- As we saw, Missoula costs at least $8,400 a year
- In Detroit it’ll cost you $9,759 a year
- New York daycares cost $10,519 a year
- Denver will set you back $11,578 a year
- Boston charges $14,960 a year
- San Jose is $15,177 a year
We know that families pay, on average, 20% of their income for early childhood care.
In 2016 the average cost to send a kid to preschool in America was $7,053 a year.
For comparison’s sake, the average cost for a 4-year public college runs $9,410.
How Preschool Staff are Paid
Despite the high costs to send a child to preschool, we know that child care workers don’t make any money.
Nationally in 2016 a child care worker’s median hourly wage was $10.16 an hour. We feel parking lot attendants are more important - their median hourly wage that year was $10.45.
And yet we know that having well-paid, qualified teachers at your child’s preschool has amazing benefits for that child’s development.
Here’s how a recent report put it:
“Most of the benefits formal preschool programs provide can be attributed to well-trained, well-educated preschool teachers. Research shows that schools with high-quality teachers produce the best academic and social outcomes for children. The best teachers encourage play, exploration and friendship, while simultaneously introducing pre-academic skills through picture books, science experiments, math games and other activities. Yet, for all that work, most private preschool teachers are making near-poverty wages. The average wage for preschool teachers who are not employed by a public school system is $13.98 an hour or $29,080 a year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.”
That’s for private preschool teachers. If you’re a preschool teacher working in a public school, your average wage is $24.06 an hour, or $50,040 a year.
If private preschools tried to match that payscale, then the cost of early childhood care would jump so much that a family with just one child would need to earn $195,000 a year to pay for it.
Without serious investment in preschools from either government or businesses, it’s doubtful preschool teachers will have a living wage anytime soon.
Benefits of Preschool
Besides preparing kids for school, preschool does a lot to save taxpayers money later.
We know that kids that attend preschool centers “had lower rates of emotional, conduct, relationship and attention problems later in life than kids who were watched by a family member or babysitter. These benefits last longer than any temporary boost the kids get in academics.”
Attending preschool makes it more likely that a young adult won’t end up in jail, which costs a lot more than preschools each year. Prisons cost more. Juvenile detention centers cost the most.
We know that American children aren’t as smart as children in other countries. The reason for this is preschool.
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development tells us that of the 35 developed economies in the world, 87% of them have all of their 4-year-olds in preschool.
In America just 66% of 4-year-olds are in preschool.
Currently American kids rank 38th in math and 24th in science. Some of the countries that are beating us are Russia and Vietnam.
Here in Montana, attending preschool has a visible effect on those test scores.
In Alberton, kids began attending the pilot preschool programs that were set up there in 2015 with federal and state money.
Math proficiency in those kids went from 50% to 75%. Reading went from 29% to 67%.
How Other Cities & States Fund Preschool
Government subsidies to families to fund preschool only targets those near the poverty line.
The American middle class has income ranging from $44,000 to $132,000 a year, and those amounts are too high to qualify for any kind of government assistance when it comes to early childhood education.
Most parents choose to use private preschools, not publicly-funded ones.
We know that 1.37 million kids attended public preschools during the 2017-18 school year, compared with the nearly 4 million that attended private preschools.
18 states got developmental grants in 2017, while 7 states didn’t invest a dime in their preschool programs.
Kansas and Nebraska follow this model to fund their whole system.
The Department of Public Health and Human Services issues the child care block grant. In 2018, Congress appropriated $5.2 billion for this.
Montana was able to win a $40 million federal grant to open up 1,000 new preschool slots in 2015, but that grant is now finished. Taking its place is a 1-year, $4.2 million grant, which won’t go as far.
A big problem with preschool funding here in Montana is that it’s tied to general fund appropriations.
This monetary source is wildly inconsistent. Whenever the state has a deficit (or thinks they will) then pre-K funding gets sent to the chopping block first.
On top of this, funding that comes through the budget process is typically divorced from enrollment numbers. This means if enrollment jumps, we’ll see a decrease in per-pupil funding across the system.
New Jersey was able to overcome this very problem with their Abbott Preschool Program, however. In that state, funding is based on the cost of educating the pre-K enrollee, not budget whims.
Maine is another state that overcame this issue, mainly by funding pre-K at 1.1 times more than the per-pupil foundational base rate.
Sometimes states refuse to fund preschool and cities step in. We see this in Denver and San Antonio, which use sales tax revenues as a funding source. Seattle does it through their property tax, while in Philadelphia they fund pre-K with a tax on soda-pop.
Montana can’t go this route, as the legislature has the tax authority, not cities.
In Virginia and Iowa, local governments are required to provide matching funds for every dollar the state/school district spends.
In Oklahoma they only decided to start funding full-day kindergarten when they learned that their half-day programs were already receiving enough funding to be full-day.
Where was that extra money going? To the state’s football teams.
That caused a stir, and legislators of both parties decided to do something. They not only made full-day kindergarten mandatory, they also funded preschool. Now 75% of the 4-year-olds in that state are in full-day pre-K programs.
Back in 1992, Georgia tied a portion of their state lottery revenue to universal preschool, and now over 50% of the state’s 4-year-olds attend preschool. The reason Georgia took this route was so that the program “wouldn’t fall prey to any future state budget cuts.”
In Washington, D.C., a staggering 90% of 4-year-olds and 70% of 3-year-olds attend full-day public preschool (full day here is 6.5 hours).
This is easy, as the programs are free to parents.
D.C. has what’s called "voluntary prekindergarten" funding in their education funding formula, “a model that research suggests is the best, most stable was to fund these programs”
In 2017 the city spent $16,996 in state funding per child, while the rest of the country spends on average just $5,008.
After D.C. instituted this program, the number of mothers in the workforce jumped by 10%.
Congress can fund preschool, as they did it before.
America provided universal preschool for all of the country’s children back in 1940 when Congress passed the Defense Housing and Community Facilities and Services Act.
This bill was passed at the behest of the defense contractors that desperately needed workers. Most of those workers were at war, so they had to settle for women. Sadly for them, many of these women had kids.
So what did the companies do? They had taxpayers bail them out so they wouldn’t have to spend their own profits.
That’s why America had universal preschool from 1940 to 1946. Over 100,000 kids were in the program, and parents only paid the equivalent of $9 to $10 in today’s money.
Back in WWII the country realized we needed women in the workforce. Providing childcare allowed that to happen.
Today we don’t really want women in the workforce as much. If we did, we’d provide them the tools to enter that workforce, like affordable childcare. But we don’t.
The State of Montana could care less about early childhood education, or its costs.
While it’s true the state has spent $46 million to fund pilot preschool programs since 2015, that money is now gone.
Parents will have to pay extra, as it’s unlikely local governments will pay. Well, they can't pay - it's why Helena is about to kick 34 kids out of preschool because of the legislature’s recent actions.
And let’s be honest - if 14 hospitals hadn’t offered up $6 million to help fund that pilot program, it probably never would have come about in the first place.
The $4.2 million federal grant the state has this year and into the next won’t last long, or have much of an impact.
Bullock’s proposed $30 million statewide preschool idea died in the legislature, and I’m sure the $8 million idea to expand the program by 400 students will suffer the same fate.
A big problem is that Bullock wants to raise taxes to fund the program, and Republican legislators don’t want to do this.
But we know it’s not really a tax issue - the GOP did just vote to raise the bed tax to help fund the new Historical Society Building, after all.
Perhaps it’s just that Republicans don’t like the tax ideas Bullock has, or maybe that they’re coming from a Democrat.
Perhaps there are other tax options to get that $30 million to fund the program, not just our usual sin taxes.
And I personally don’t think the Chamber of Commerce’s idea of having people open more centers is realistic.
The state doesn’t make it easy to operate a child care center. Currently they have a 40-page document of licensing requirements that you must meet if you want to open.
Just scrolling through that will likely make most prospective business owners question whether they really want to enter this industry.
The student ratio is 1 teacher for 8 students, but depends on age. Babies take 1 teacher for 4 students, toddlers are 1 teacher for 6 students.
So you need a lot of staff, and you have to pay them wages and then pay payroll taxes on them. It really eats into a childcare business’ profits, making this industry not a real profitable one.
That adds up, especially when so many parents are complaining about the cost of childcare now.
How on earth are we going to pay teachers more if parents won’t pay more? And how are daycare centers going to retain qualified staff if we don’t pay more?
These are serious dilemmas, and there are no easy answers.
Maybe that’s why the Chamber is hoping more in-home daycares open. But are they best for the students?
The problem with the in-home model that the local Chamber of Commerce highlights is that they’re unrealistic.
Small in-home care centers usually have a small number of kids, around 6 or so. This means they only need one main worker, perhaps an assistant.
This can also become problematic when you need a substitute teacher, which can be hard to find.
Still, a big benefit is that in-home care centers have a lot fewer regulations when it comes to their playground size.
Many parents aren’t seeking out in-home care centers, but professional child care centers. There are not as many of these in Missoula, and they have a lot of regulations that make running them cost-prohibitive and not that profitable.
For instance, you need to have a certain teacher-student ratio. This means you need to hire more staff, and pay taxes on them.
Parents don’t want to pay anymore for childcare now, but childcare centers have a huge problem retaining staff because they can’t afford to pay high wages.
They can’t afford to pay high wages because parents don’t want to pay high monthly costs to the center.
It really does become a Catch-22.
I wish I had more answers for you, but I don’t.
I just hope that the information presented will give you some ideas. Eventually we’ll have to solve this problem. And we will.