Preschool in West Hartford

School for young child in West Hartford
School for Young Children in at the University of St. Joseph in West Hartford

Washington — Child care in Connecticut is of good quality and widely available, but it can easily cost more than in-state college tuition.

That’s what the “Care Index,” a report released this week by the Washington, D.C., think tank New America, determined about the state’s day care system.

The report said the average cost of in-home, or “nanny care” in Connecticut was $31,162 a year and the average cost of  a day care center was $11,456 per child per year. The average cost of childcare in Connecticut was determined to be $19,521, or 28 percent of the median household income.

Nationally, the cost for care at a day care center was determined to be $9,589 per child.

The report was based on government data and other sources, including, a job-matching website for in-home caregivers.

While child care is costly in Connecticut, the state ranked highest of all in the “care index” which examined quality and availability of child care –as well as cost – in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Connecticut received an overall rating of 123 out of a possible 125.

Yet Connecticut is among 33 states where the average cost of day care is higher than in-state tuition.

Brigid Schulte, the lead author of the study, said Connecticut ranked high in quality of childcare because 46 percent of its centers were accredited, the highest percentage in the nation. In contrast, only 1 percent of the day care centers in South Dakota were accredited.

Schulte cautioned that the quality of care a child receives could be better judged by observing the care between a caregiver and a child, which was unfeasible, “so we used accreditation data as a proxy.”

She said parents in Connecticut also have easy access to care, compared to other states.

“The greatest availability (of care) is in the Northeast, the worst is in rural states in the West,” she said.

Schulte’s report said that, despite the high cost of care, day-care workers are paid poverty wages and turnover is high.

It says the nation’s parents rely on a “patchwork” system to provide care for more than 12 million American children younger than 5.

Merrill Gay, executive director of the Connecticut Early Childhood Alliance, a coalition of  child welfare groups in the state, said the report “highlighted the fact that child care is still very expensive for families with young children.”

He said part of the reason the cost is so high is that most Connecticut preschoolers are not attending subsidized child care centers.

“When you look at things at 10,000 feet, it looks real good,” Gay said of the state’s early childcare system. “But we also have great income disparity.”

Gay said Connecticut’s high cost of housing means many families of modest incomes pay up to 50 percent of their income to put a roof over their heads, leaving little for other expenses if they also have to pay for child care.

The largest subsidized child care program in the state is Care4Kids, a joint federal-state initiative. Eligibility requirements for the program were tightened this summer.

The state said a federal effort to improve the program also made it more expensive and forced Connecticut to tighten requirements.

Despite the challenges parents face in finding good, affordable day care, Schulte is optimistic the issue will rise to the top of the nation’s policy discussions.

“It’s the very first time childcare has made it into a presidential election,” she said.

Both Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump unveiled proposals to reform the system.

Trump’s plan would allow parents to deduct the cost of day care from their income taxes, but that deduction would be capped at the amount of the average cost of care in their state.

Clinton has said she would limit the cost of day care to no more than 10 percent of a household’s income, but hasn’t said how she would pay for the program.

Ana has written about politics and policy in Washington, D.C.. for Gannett, Thompson Reuters and UPI. She was a special correspondent for the Miami Herald, and a regular contributor to The New York TImes, Advertising Age and several other publications. She has also worked in broadcast journalism, for CNN and several local NPR stations. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland School of Journalism.

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