Quality child care is essential. It is key to the healthy development of our youngest children. It is also a building block of our economy because parents can’t work without it. Sadly, nearly half of Idaho families lack access to the care they need and challenges are especially severe in rural areas. As the Idaho Legislature continues to kick the can down the road, our child care crisis will only become worse.
Most families rely on two income earners to get by which means finding child care. Before the pandemic, Idaho was short an estimated 20,000 child care spots according to the nonprofit policy organization, Idaho Voices for Children. Since then, over 200 child care businesses permanently closed, resulting in an even greater shortage.
This growing crisis is impacting our workforce and our economy. For working parents, this leads to missed work days and even being pushed out of the labor market.
Employers too suffer, experiencing higher turnover and an inability to fill open positions. In fact, Idaho loses an estimated $479 million each year in costs to business and lost tax revenue due to child care issues. Conversely, investments in quality child care pay off in the long term. For every $1 invested in child care returns up to $16 to our economy by better preparing our children to become productive, self-sufficient adults.
The biggest challenge is financial. Idaho parents pay hundreds of dollars each month for care, with the market rate for one infant costing upwards of $800 — more than average than the cost of full-time, in-state tuition at Boise State University.
The math simply isn’t working for too many Idaho families, while Republican lawmakers vacillate between ignoring the problem and making it worse. Idaho is one of a handful of states that refuses to invest any state funding to make preschool and child care more accessible. In 2021, GOP politicians rejected a three-year $18 million federal grant Idaho was awarded to support homegrown early learning solutions across the state. One Republican legislator declared he would oppose “any bill that makes it easier or more convenient for mothers to come out of the home.”
This year, Republicans voted against distributing federal funds to child care businesses struggling to keep their doors open. Only after severe public outcry and protests by child care providers and parents, did they reverse course. But this funding stream will end soon, putting even more pressure on working families, child care providers, and businesses struggling to find workers.
As an Idaho Democrat, I have been frustrated watching the Republican supermajority throw away promising opportunities for our kids. We understand that investments in our youngest children are the wisest investments we can make. And we will continue to advocate for their future.
Lauren Necochea, Idaho Democratic Party Chair