Solutions to improve child care in Montana

Today’s blog is the last in a series of four blogs on child care in Montana.

Last week we highlighted the need for affordable and quality child care for low-income families in Montana through several blogs and a more comprehensive report. But, no conversation about child care can stand alone. We must acknowledge the need to invest in our early childhood development system as a whole in order to create opportunities for better education and child care for all Montana families.

Several areas we should consider increasing investment include:

Strengthening the child care profession – Child care workers play a critical role by caring for and teaching our children new skills everyday. However, child care employees are some of the lowest paid workers in Montana. Currently, over 2,500 individuals in Montana are employed as child care workers, earning an average of $20,500 a year. These individuals are earning such low wages that they can’t even afford child care for their own children. Additionally, these workers often go without employer-provided benefits like health insurance and sick days and have few options to build their skills and grow in the child care profession.

Paying child care workers fair wages and benefits and providing them access to professional development and training opportunities will enable them to thrive at work, prioritize care for our children, and be able to provide for their families. Doing what’s right for child care workers can also help child care providers attract and retain the best employees possible – which is good for all kids.

Investing in pre-kindergarten – Statewide pre-kindergarten programs could help offset the child care costs that families struggle to afford, not to mention building children’s skills so they can enter school prepared and able to achieve along with their peers. Further, investing in pre-k can strengthen Montana’s economy by supporting working families and creating good-paying jobs in the early education industry.

Supporting families with high child care costs through tax assistance programs. The federal child and dependent care tax credit (CDCTC) allows parents to report up to $3,000 per child in child care costs (for a maximum of two children) and receive a tax credit worth up to 35 percent of qualifying expenses. A single mom with two children in care, for example, could receive up to $2,100 from the CDCTC to help offset her federal income tax.

Currently, 21 states have enacted state CDCTCs based on the federal credit, and more than half of these states have created refundable state credits that enable low-income families to get the most out of the state CDCTC. Montana could enact a state refundable CDCTC set at a fixed percentage of the federal credit and structure the credit to encourage families to use high-quality care providers by offering larger credits to families who use licensed child care providers or providers who participate in Montana’s STARS to Quality program. The state credit would help offset state income taxes, support low-and middle-income families struggling to afford child care, and promote high-quality care, which helps children learn, grow, and succeed in school.

It’s time for Montana to provide resources to help ensure that all parents can access affordable child care and education opportunities for their children. High-quality child care and educational programs, including pre-kindergarten, are key to developing children’s cognitive, social, and emotional skills and preparing them for school. Additionally, investing in areas that support the professionalization of early childhood educators and child care workers would help child care providers better attract and retain skilled employees.

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