Commentary: Delaware should update how it funds child care

By Kelsey Mensch

Affordable child care is an evergreen issue that predates COVID-19. But as Rodel wrote in September, the pandemic has forced many child care centers to severely limit their enrollment or close their doors entirely. Delaware’s child care centers have relied on federal CARES funding to support centers and families through “enhanced” reimbursements, but that money ran out at the end of December with no proposal for continuing it. Without a greater financial investment and continued reimbursements, Delaware could permanently lose one-third of its early-learning providers.

Kelsey Mensch

Heading into the 151st General Assembly, Purchase of Care (or POC) — a state subsidy that helps centers cover tuition for low-income families — will remain a priority. Child care for one child costs approximately 20% of the median family income, or around $13,000 per year per child. The problem is: POC doesn’t come close to covering the true cost of care in Delaware and only serves 23% of eligible children.

Today, POC only covers a percentage of the true “market rate,” the figure that providers charge families for care. For Delaware to fully invest in our youngest learners, it must increase investments in POC to cover the total cost of care, rather than just a small percentage of the market rate. We anticipate a revised market rate study by Feb. 1 and a cost of quality care study by June. The hope is that we can identify how much funding we need and enable the state to set state rates for child care that provide adequate funding to support child development and a living wage to the early-learning workforce.

Vision Coalition graphic

To help avert a potential crisis and preserve the child care industry, you can take action with the Fund Our Future campaign, which includes 20 partners: child care providers, unions and community and advocacy groups.

Kelsey Mensch is a research associate at Rodel, a nonprofit organization that partners with Delawareans and educational innovators from around the world to transform public education in the First State.