Firm Foundations through Universal Daycare

On Sunday, Democrat & Chronicle journalist Megan DeMarco presented an analysis of the state of daycare services in the Rochester area.  And in response, local reporter Rachel Barnhart asks on her blog, Is Daycare a Right?  If you just want my simple answer, it’s yes.  If you want to know why I say this, please continue reading.

In today’s economy, we have come to accept a status quo where a full-time minimum wage worker has an annual income of $15,000.  This is well below the federal poverty line of $23,000, and even further below the $30,000 that some estimate to be the actual level for self-sufficiency in the United States.  What this means is that our economic system requires two incomes for many to keep their heads above water.  And while it may be possible for some two-parent families to alternate their work schedules, with the extreme lack of jobs in our local economy most are forced to take whatever job they can get, keeping them from such flexibility.  Throw into the mix the large number of single parents in our communities and we’ve created a system where child and parent are necessarily separated to keep food on the table for every meal.

But as the D&C article points out, there is a severe lack of daycare services available in our City.  Within the City of Rochester, we have 483 licensed daycare centers with a total capacity of 11,419 children.  Now while I don’t have the exact number of children in Rochester handy, it’s not too much of a stretch to imagine that in a city of 210,000 people, there are likely more than 11,000 children needing either full-day or after-school services.  Additionally, the Child Care Council says that those currently getting services have to pay $143 to $237 per week, adding yet another burden to the working class of Rochester.  And while many demonize parents on public assistance, maybe we need to be asking ourselves if this cost is part of the problem.  Maybe we need to be asking if they can really go to work when they can’t afford childcare, even with a full-time job.  

Next up, we come to how all of this might contribute to the inequalities faced by students in the Rochester City School District.  While we can talk and talk about the need of parents to provide the foundation for their children’s education before they enter kindergarten, to do so simply ignores the reality of low-income families.  If mom or dad is working 2-3 jobs, what time do they really have?  And how can we blame them?  They’re simply doing their best in a system stacked against them.  And when the children are failed in their studies, we simply perpetuate the cycle of poverty that so many find themselves trapped in.  Universal Pre-K has been a step in the right direction, but we could level the playing field to an even greater degree if every child received the proper attention they need soon after birth.

There is clearly a need here.  And when a need of this nature is imposed on our community, it is our responsibility to solve this problem as a community.  It is our duty to guarantee that every child be provided with the quality services they need if we are to provide them with the firm foundation that they need to grow to their potential.  We must work with the existing infrastructure within the Rochester City School District to open new pre-school childcare centers in available space in school buildings.  And we must increase after-school  & recreation programs for school age children.  If we provide anything short of this, of universal childcare, we will never be able to ensure that the systemic issues of inequality and poverty that haunt our City will become a thing of the past.  

This November, vote Green Rochester.  Vote Row F.

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