Last night, a reform was unveiled to subsidize early childhood education. The discourse surrounding the reform is “the high cost of living.” It is true, daycare is expensive. I have three children who all went to daycare centers. My youngest is turning 3, and I am looking forward to the coming school year when she will enter preschool. But to properly address the issues surrounding early childhood education, we need to change the conversation.
Daycare centers serve as more than just a babysitter that allows parents to enter the labor market. It is a place where young, impressionable, rapidly developing children spend the bulk of their waking time. Are these places the most supportive, warm, and encouraging environments? Is the staff properly vetted, trained, and familiar with early childhood development? The answer to both of these questions is too often “No.” Our daycare centers are more crowded than those in other OECD countries, they are understaffed, and most of the staff has insufficient training.
Subsidizing daycare is not sufficient without addressing these issues. The combination of overcrowding and undertraining has turned daycare centers into pressure cookers; it is no wonder that the staff turnover rates are so high. Steps to promote improvements in early childhood education quality were introduced in the reform, including increasing and incentivizing staff training, more oversight, and improving the staff-to-child ratio. These commendable steps have helped bring the importance of the early childhood years and the quality of early childhood education to the forefront of the public stage. However, most of the discussion in the media remains in the arena of the high cost of living, while overlooking these proposed steps.
We need to focus on the goal of high-quality early childhood education and hold public officials accountable so that the promises regarding quality do not fall through the cracks and give way to subsidies. If this is not done daycare will cost slightly less, but what will we have gained?