The month after my youngest started kindergarten, I got a raise.
And my boss will be pleased to know it didn’t cost him a thing. Enrollment in public school meant that my childcare costs dropped dramatically.
How much did childcare cost my family a month? $25 less than my car payment. Nearly as much as the rent for my first Pensacola apartment, back when I was single lady.
And that was during the “bonus” year when Florida’s free voluntary prekindergarten program was in our favor.
So a report published by The Wall Street Journal’s Real Time Economics that highlighted the 23 states where children care for children ages 4 and under costs more than the average college tuition.
And Florida is among them.
Even in the years when my children were in VPK, childcare wasn’t free. Because the VPK day ends after three hours, so my husband and I paid for “wraparound” care to cover the rest of the work day.
A little over $400 a month. When they were infants, the monthly average cost was near $600.
When the Studer Community Institute team began three years ago to work with Dr. Rick Harper and his staff at the Office of Economic Development and Engagement at the University of West Florida to create a set of measurements that would give a snapshot of our community, we took childcare into account.
It’s not cheap.
According to the Pensacola Metro Dashboard, the cost of childcare can consume on average 49 percent of the median income of a single-parent household in Escambia County; in Santa Rosa, the figure is 30 percent.
The dashboard also tells us that the per capita income in Escambia County is $38,389.
According to the Florida Department of Children and Families, which licenses centers, there are 200 licensed childcare centers in Escambia County.
Of those, 85 are authorized as providers of the state’s voluntary prekindergarten program; 165 of the centers participate in the School Readiness Program, which offers working parents a subsidy to pay for the cost of childcare as long as they work at least 20 hours a week and earn an income of 150 percent of the federal poverty level.
The cut off for the School Readiness program is $36,375 for a family of four, according to Bruce Watson, executive director of the Early Learning Coalition.
That’s math that hits every working family where it hurts.
Of the 200 centers, 15 are Gold Seal Quality Care programs. That’s a designation the Florida Legislature has established to acknowledge childcare facilities and family day care homes that are accredited by nationally recognized agencies in the field among other criteria.
Some ambitious state lawmaker who wanted to win friends and influence people could consider the success of Florida’s prepaid college tuition program and look for a way to apply that model to the earliest — and most critical — developmental years of our children’s lives.
He or she sure would get my vote.