If you’re a parent serving in today’s military, you can usually count on having affordable child care wherever you’re stationed. That’s because military leaders know our service members find it much easier to do their jobs – which amount to protecting national security – if they know their children are well-cared for while they’re at work.
Millions of civilian families aren’t so fortunate. According to a report from the ReadyNation business leader group, 14 percent of respondents to a national survey reported someone in their family faced child care issues that forced them to quit a job, not take a job, or change the way they did their jobs. That’s obviously bad news for parents struggling to support their kids; but it’s equally bad for the nation’s employers, who lose $3 billion annually due to employees who miss work because of child care challenges.
Unfortunately, these challenges will also affect our nation’s military readiness. Right now, 71 percent of the nation’s young adults cannot qualify for military service because they are physically unfit, have a criminal record, did not graduate from high school, or cannot pass the entrance exam, which assesses reading, math and problem-solving skills.
Making quality child care more available during the first five years of children’s lives will address this educational challenge by preparing more kids to succeed in high-quality preschool programs where early math and reading skills are developed. That’s because research shows these are the years when children’s brains are literally wired for success or failure, with one million neural connections being formed every second, thereby setting the foundation for cognition and behavior throughout life.
That wiring can have a tremendous impact on achievement. As noted in a new report from the 600 retired admirals and generals who are part of Mission: Readiness, a recent study found that kids who were in high-quality, full-day child care had better language skills at the age of two. The report also spotlights a study of more than 1,300 children that showed those who experienced higher quality child care were better prepared for school at age four. At age 15 they were still performing better than their peers.
None of this will come as a surprise to millions of parents looking for quality child care. The ReadyNation and Mission: Readiness reports both cite three challenges they face. First is access, as nearly one-third of the nation’s parents say they have trouble finding child care. Second is quality, because nearly 90 percent of the nation’s kids aren’t even enrolled in accredited child care programs. Third is the cost of a good program, which can top $9,500 per child per year.
Fortunately help could be at hand. A bipartisan group of lawmakers in Congress is working to modernize the existing Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit by increasing the rate of the credit and making it available to all families with child care expenses, including those who aren’t earning enough to owe federal income taxes. Their reasons are sound, because this is the only tax credit specifically for working parents with child care expenses.
The legislation, known as the Promoting Affordable Child Care for Everyone (PACE) Act, is co-sponsored by Florida Congresswoman Stephanie Murphy and Kansas Congressman Kevin Yoder. It could easily be incorporated into tax reform, which Congressional leaders have pledged to pass. Support from Congressman Carlos Curbelo, who serves on the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, will be especially important.
While I expect lawmakers to champion this effort on behalf of kids, I hope they’ll also consider the impact on the workforce. Like our service members, workers in every sector will be more productive if they’re unencumbered by child care worries and able to pay for child care that offers the nurturing and academic support their kids deserve
Lawmakers on the fence should note that the military has been all-in on this ever since the passage of the Military Child Care Act in 1989. Since then, the military child care system has become a model for civilian child care providers. While bringing child care up to this standard for everyday parents will be a long road, taking this step to make it more affordable is a smart start.