Staff Editorial: Childcare proposals are a worthy investment

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The University of the District of Columbia, shown in 2015, is one of the city government sites under consideration for a child care facility. (Brian Kapur/Current file photo)

The District has invested heavily in the D.C. Public School system, seeking to improve education outcomes for struggling students. The city has also tried to help its adult residents succeed in the workforce.

But one important piece has been largely missing from this broader puzzle: childcare. Infants and toddlers can benefit tremendously from some settings, and struggle in others. The District has carefully regulated its childcare providers to ensure proper employee training and other important criteria, but hasn’t achieved nearly the capacity that’s needed to serve the city’s estimated 22,000 children under the age of 3.

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This shortage is felt acutely by parents of young children, who may be forced to stay home due to a lack of childcare options. It can prevent many parents from earning money, strengthening their resumes and contributing to the local economy and tax base. When people who wish to work are given the ability to do so, the benefits can be tremendous.

Accordingly, we’re encouraged by a recent focus on childcare in D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s proposed budget invests $15 million in the field, and several D.C. Council members have also pitched bills on the subject.

The mayor’s proposal includes grant money to help new childcare facilities open, and also provides space for childcare inside D.C. government facilities. One site proposed for Northwest is the University of the District of Columbia’s Van Ness campus, which could also benefit parents who choose to pursue a degree there. Meanwhile, the budget would also fund additional personnel to expedite the lengthy application process to open a childcare facility, and help train D.C. residents for jobs there.

We hope that the council approves this aspect of the mayor’s budget, and also adopts a proposal from Ward 7 member Vincent Gray that the District study an increase to the subsidy it provides low-income families to get childcare.

The city’s existing subsidy rate covers 66 percent of the estimated median cost for quality service, but a sensible provision in Council member Gray’s broader reform bill asks for confirmation that this amount is in line with actual costs. We agree that this topic deserves careful review to ensure that families are receiving the intended subsidy.

We applaud Ms. Bowser, Mr. Gray and other council members who have expressed support for childcare. And we hope that, in addition to these measures, the District can continue to pursue steps toward further access to this vital service.