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Several states are considering free childcare for young educators

Children walk down a school hallway, demonstrating the importance of early childhood education programs that many states are now looking to support with new funding initiatives. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Across the country, child care remains unaffordable for many families, difficult to find for those who can afford it, and financially challenging for day care centers and their employees.

The Biden administration and Congress raised $52.5 billion as relief during the pandemic, but as these funds expire, many states have introduced their own solutions.

States that implement free childcare policies

Some states are expanding free preschool and early education, helping more families afford childcare and creating sustainable funding sources for these programs:

New Mexico: In 2022, New Mexico amended its constitution to fund free child care for nearly all state families using revenue from leasing state land to oil and gas companies. This initiative is expected to raise approximately $150 million annually, significantly supporting early childhood education and making child care accessible to families earning up to 400% of the federal poverty level.

Washington: Washington state introduced a 7% tax on profits from residents’ financial investments in 2021. This tax aims to provide free preschool to low-income families and child care vouchers to low- and moderate-income families. Revenue from this tax supports high-quality care for infants and toddlers with developmental disabilities, with the goal of providing comprehensive support to families in need.

Kentucky: In 2023, Kentucky introduced a program to cover or reduce child care costs for parents who work in child care. This policy is intended to attract more childcare workers and provide low-cost care for all families. By expanding the child care subsidy program’s eligibility requirements to include all staff who work at least 20 hours per week in licensed child care and education programs, Kentucky aims to improve child care availability and support beginning educators.

Bipartisan support for child care initiatives

While Democrats often lead significant investments in child care, Republican state lawmakers are increasingly supportive of these initiatives. Both sides recognize the crucial role of childcare in economic stability and workforce development and find common ground.

In states like Nebraska and Iowa, for example, Republican lawmakers have joined their Democratic colleagues in pushing for expanded child care subsidies and support programs.

These initiatives aim to address the labor shortage in the child care sector, which in turn supports working parents and stimulates the overall economy.

Growing trend in all states

Kentucky’s successful model has inspired more than a dozen states to consider similar programs, including:

  • Arizona
  • Colorado
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Massachusetts
  • Nebraska
  • Rhode Island

Long-term benefits and challenges

Better staffed child care and education programs increase the supply of child care, allowing more parents to return to work. However, many states still struggle to retain and attract beginning teachers due to competition with higher-paying jobs in other industries.

States are exploring different funding models to support these initiatives so they can continue to provide essential services for families and young educators. The success of these programs could serve as a blueprint for a national solution to the child care crisis.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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