WASHINGTON, D.C. — Khadija Lewis Khan told U.S. senators Tuesday that one of the biggest hurdles to improving child care in Rhode Island dates back to long before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Khan, the executive director of the Beautiful Beginnings Child Care Center in Providence, pointed to a 2008 state law that reduced income eligibility for child care.
Because of that law, she said, federal affordability guidelines show that a family would need to earn $150,000 per year to pay for one 3-year-old in a typical Rhode Island child care center.
Khan — who is also president of the Rhode Island Association for the Education of Young Children — testified Tuesday before the U.S. Senate Committee of Health, Education, Labor and Pensions during a hearing on “Supporting Children, Workers and Families by Strengthening America’s Child Care Sector.”
An estimated 4.5 million American children lost spots in child care centers during the pandemic. The average yearly cost for child care across the country is $15,000, and roughly 21.5 million workers in the U.S. have a child under the age of 6.
In her opening remarks, Khan emphasized that many child care centers in Rhode Island would not have survived the pandemic without funding from the CARES Act, the $2.2 trillion relief bill that Congress enacted in March 2020.
She also highlighted what she sees as a disconnect regarding how many people view child care professionals. While they are often described as essential workers, she said, the low salaries they are generally paid suggest their seen as “disposable.”
Khan testified that some high school graduates in Rhode Island can earn more in entry-level jobs than child care teachers, who she says receive an average pay of $12 per hour and a minimum pay of $11.50 per hour.
She outlined four ideas she suggested could help improve child care across the country: higher funding, including compensation on par with elementary school teachers; wider availability of child care to more families; avoiding a separation between child care and early learning; and seeking input from professionals in the industry.
Khan said Beautiful Beginnings Child Care Center spends 70% of its budget on wages, and the center still struggles to offer retirement plans and affordable health care.
As a result, she said, more highly educated teachers don’t view child care as a long-term career, choosing to leave for jobs with better pay and benefits.