By this time next week the halls of schools across the state will be full of jostling, happy kids, ready for another year of learning. But what happens when the bell rings at the end of the school day? When I was a kid, we’d flood the streets, playing sports and games until the streetlights came on.
It’s a different world now. It’s a world in which moms are arrested for letting their 8-year-olds hang out at the playground unattended, and other moms (– it’s always the moms, isn’t it? What about the dads? — ) are arrested for letting their second graders walk to the park.
Most jobs get out at 5 or 6, nearly three hours after dismissal bells sound. After school care is available in every public school, but is it affordable? In my community, the lowest cost option for afternoon care is $225 a month, but options can run you as much as $500. For families with multiple kids this can add up. Three kids at $225 a pop is $675 every single month. Add to that enrollment fees, supply fees, and deposits and you are looking at a mortgage payment.
Until recently, middle income parents like me and those who make less qualified for a good amount of childcare subsidy to pay the after school bills. But a new budget passed by the state General Assembly changed the way this money is allocated, sending much more to pre-k programs and leaving parents of elementary-aged kids without help.
Previously families with two parents and two kids could make up to $50,000 and receive help with childcare costs. Now that limit is set to $30,000, a move that will disqualify thousands of children from assistance. Before, a single mom with two kids could earn $42,000 and get help. That woman now must make $26,000 to qualify her elementary school kids for subsidized after school care.
Do we really expect parents to spend 10% of their income on 10 hours a week of childcare? This figure doesn’t even include spending on summer programs so that kids can run and play with supervision for the three months a year school isn’t in session. Is it any wonder blue collar moms are being forced into hard decisions and are choosing to let their kids play unattended instead of losing the bulk of their take-home pay to childcare?
It’s fantastic that state lawmakers chose to increase funding to early child care centers. But that’s no reason to decrease help for kids who are old enough to go to school. We can’t let leaders hold us hostage to any more of these false choices. It’s not that we don’t have funding to help 3-year-olds and 8-year-olds; it’s that we don’t have enough to give millionaires tax cuts while taking care of the rest of NC.