14 February 2022 | Early Learning

Child Care is Essential Infrastructure

Mitch Rucker

January 2022

Child care providers and parents face a daunting challenge in Kansas. Our child care system needs significant investment, and the market can’t fix the problem.

Here’s the problem: If providers increase their prices, families won’t be able to afford care. If families can’t afford care, that means caregivers won’t be able to work or support their families. At the same time, the rising costs of running a child care business mean the people Kansans entrust to care for their children are often making minimum wage or slightly more. That means fewer people enter the early learning field and more providers close. Meanwhile, children are left without access to high-quality child care and the lifelong benefits associated with it.

We can see the problems all around us. So how do we begin to fix them?

Perhaps a change of perspective is in order. Child care is like our state’s physical infrastructure – like the roads and bridges we all depend on to get from one place to another.

Kansas has a vested interest in providing residents with the basics they need to work and live. That’s why we pay taxes to keep our roads paved and bridges safe. That’s why our nation built the interstate highway system (championed by Kansas’ own President Dwight D. Eisenhower) starting in the 1950s.

That’s why Kansas needs to support child care. The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare many truths that might have been hidden from the view before, and one of those is how essential child care is for all of us. That word, “essential,” isn’t just my description, but the official designation by the state.

Early learning is one of the building blocks of our society.

Most households require two incomes these days, meaning that someone besides parents must help care for children. Kansas is also experiencing troubling population loss, especially in our rural areas, so we don’t want to force people to choose between working and starting a family. All of us should want them to succeed.

The state must support Kansas families by investing in child care policies. That means tax credits that could help businesses contribute to the cost of child care for their employees. That means enhanced reimbursement rates for providers and grants to help them sustain and improve their businesses. That means looking at and prioritizing child care the way we do other essential infrastructure projects throughout Kansas.

It won’t be easy. It won’t be quick. But the sooner we get to work, the sooner we will have a stable and thriving early learning sector – for the good of all Kansans.