By Guest Columnist PAM TATUM, CEO of Quality Care for Children
No doubt the City of Atlanta has a lot going for it. The new mayor will take charge of a vibrant city with a reputation as a great place to do business – a city with a growing population that’s a major destination for young college grads. But with all Atlanta has going for it, it may not be the best place for young people to start a family and educate their children.
As many of our lower income residents who have been here for decades can attest, Atlanta lacks affordable, high-quality child care options that often prevents children from obtaining the very best start in life and hinders parents in earning higher education degrees or better paying jobs. In spite of Atlanta’s thriving economy, it remains among the worst cities for economic mobility.
For any city, a strong public education system is critical.
Research tells us that a quality education in the earliest years, from birth to 5 years, will have the biggest impact on children’s success in school and beyond, and is key to closing the opportunity gap that contributes to Atlanta’s poor performance on measures of economic mobility. Yet high-quality early childhood education programs can be difficult to find in some areas of the city. With an average cost of more than $9,000 a year for one infant, it is a significant stretch for many young families. Even when a family can find quality child care, they are often challenged to pay for it.
As I peruse the platforms of the mayoral candidates, I am struck by how few even mention the need for quality, affordable child care. Not only is it important for our young children and families, but Georgia’s child-care industry contributes more than $4 billion each year to our economy.
Child care is a complex issue where simple solutions often come with deleterious unintended consequences. By working with parents, child-care providers, and others in the early learning field, the next mayor of Atlanta can craft solutions that acknowledge the business realties of the industry and the needs of children, families, and employers. Subjects that could be explored include:
- Investments to help families afford quality child care, such as the City of Atlanta becoming a model employer and providing child care subsidies for its low-wage earners to help them afford quality programs, while challenging other major employers in Atlanta to do the same.
- Tax policy that provides incentives to child care programs that provide high-quality child care and to businesses that invest in quality child care. Reviewing the recommendations of the Governor’s Education Reform Commission would be a good first step.
Targeted loan funds, grants and incentives that are appropriate in scope for the child care industry and incentivize quality and affordability.
- A review of zoning ordinances and building codes to make sure that while they ensure children’s safety and a community’s quality of life, they don’t serve as barriers to the supply of high-quality and affordable child care.
- Community development plans that recognize child care as an important part of a community’s infrastructure, one that supports Atlanta’s current workforce and prepares the workforce of the future.
The next mayor of Atlanta has an opportunity to create a city that not only attracts young college graduates, but keeps them here as they start families; a city that provides children with a quality education from birth, regardless of the family’s income; a city that breaks the cycle of poverty and propels Atlanta from one of the worst cities for economic mobility, to a city where we all rise.
We ask Atlanta’s next mayor to engage with the early learning community to develop a coordinated approach to developing a supply of quality, affordable child care accessible to all Atlanta families. Candidates – call me. Let’s talk.
Note to readers: Quality Care for Children, Inc. is a non-profit organization that has worked 35 years to ensure infants and young children are nurtured and educated. It provides training and resources to parents and child-care providers.