Cost of child care in Washington among the highest in the country

SPOKANE, Wash. — The cost of child care continues to put a strain on Washington families everywhere. Statewide, the average cost is $1,044 per child every month.

The average household income in Spokane averages out around $60,000, meaning childcare eats into roughly 20% of that collective income.

Part of the problem stems from a staffing shortage that’s putting pressure on childcare centers everywhere. Teachers that are employed in child care centers are juggling a multitude of different skills to help advance children into the early stages of life.

“People think that we’re just providing daycare services. That’s the minimum of what we provide,” said Kerra Bower, founder of the Little Scholars Center. “Health and safety; that’s first and foremost. But when you’re talking about curriculum, you’re talking about understanding your child’s learning style, you’re talking about preparing them for kindergarten.”

Bower says in Spokane, less than 50% of children are prepared for kindergarten, failing to be able to recognize their name, letters in the alphabet, or a string of numbers.

The high skillsets demanded of staff coupled with labor shortages are causing problems for these child care centers. Teachers are feeling burnt out from the workload; having to account for the learning styles and habits of multiple children.

Because many centers are vying for a dwindling number of candidates, they’re investing in aggressive recruiting measures and paying these teachers what they deserve.

“For me to spend two-four thousand dollars a month on ‘Indeed’ or ‘Facebook Campaigns’ for staffing is not unheard of,” said Bower. “You can’t pay them 15 dollars an hour; you’re looking closer to 23, 24, 25 dollars an hour.”

But the cost of these teachers is passed on to parents, where tuition assistance is becoming a rarity.

Senator Patty Murray recently acquired an additional $1.8 billion dollars in spending for child care nationwide, which equates to roughly $110 million for Washington state. This funding will assist low-income families help afford the grueling costs of child care.

It’s a significant step in the right direction, Bower noted. But for families who earn an income above that thresh hold, they’re on the hook for the bill.

Fortunately, progressive actions have been taken by the City of Spokane as well as Spokane County; lawmakers are beginning to invest in middle-class tuition assistance programs to make payments more manageable for families, steps toward progress that Bower hopes the rest of the state will follow.

READ: ‘Building relationships’: Mental health clinicians coming to support local daycares