What's the problem?
It is an established fact that education is a pathway out
of poverty. Child care is a crucial precursor to education,
not only teaching kids academic basics but also essential
life skills that later help deter crime and unemployment
— issues that often plague low-income neighborhoods.
However, federal and state funding for child care programs
falls far short of its surging demand, forcing many to
either rely on family to pay steep fees (over $10k per
child every year, almost as much as housing) or place
their child on a lengthy waitlist. In the US, 61% of
children under the age of five come from low-income
families who would qualify for subsidized daycare,
but only a third of the families actually receive it.
Even if a child is able to attend a childcare center, the quality of care is still questionable. In fact, in the city of Philadelphia as a whole, only 139 of the 871 day care/early childhood education centers that participate in the Keystone STARS (Standards, Training/Professional Development, Assistance, Resources, and Support) rating system are rated three or four stars (i.e. the two ratings designated as “high-quality”). Moreover, out of the 90 centers in the Germantown area (a largely low-income, minority neighborhood in Philadelphia), only three were rated “four star,” the highest rating possible under Pennsylvania’s Keystone STARS system for evaluating child care quality. The PA Keystone STARS rating system evaluates programs based on health & safety standards, commitment to continuous quality improvement and meeting recommended quality standards.
“Low-quality” daycares suffer from too few or inadequately trained and underpaid staffers, unstable business plans, cramped rooms and tiny outdoor play areas, and end up simply warehousing children. Such an environment is less than conducive to the meaningful learning that characterizes the few day-care centers that are designated as “high-quality”. As compared to low-quality child care, high-quality child care has been proven to produce positive learning outcomes in children, making this intervention especially beneficial for low-income families. However, this demographic is precisely the one that is currently unable to reach this necessity. Lower-quality child care providers are often the only viable option for many working-class households (if it is even available at all), due to their lighter financial burden and geographic location relative to Philadelphia's less affluent communities.
On average, uncertified, low-quality providers are smaller and less expensive (saving families over $1,000 each year) than high-quality providers. Maps show that the shortage of high-quality childcare seats is most concentrated in portions of the Northeast and Northwest, as well as neighborhoods in North Central and part of Southwest Philadelphia, all areas of high demand and high poverty rates. Therefore, we must find ways to increase access and opportunities for high-quality child care in Philadelphia. Former president Obama recognized this issue by stating, “Today, fewer than three in 10 four-year olds are enrolled in a high-quality preschool program. For poor kids who need help the most, this lack of access to preschool education can shadow them for the rest of their lives.”