State board finds child care shortage hinders economic growth, recommends path forward
A severe lack of child care is rippling through the state, affecting not only families but their places of employment.
Last month, officials gathered to raise awareness of the crisis, discuss what might be done to assist those families and businesses and launched the Nevada Child Care Fund campaign to alert parents about new resources and expanded subsidies for early childhood learning. The campaign, led by the nonprofit Children’s Cabinet, comes on the heels of a recent study released by the Governor’s Workforce Development Board (GWDB) that revealed that 74 percent of Nevada’s children younger than 5 do not have access to licensed child care.
“This is a real problem,” North Las Vegas Mayor Pamela Goynes-Brown told attendees at the Nevada Child Care Fund launch inside the East Las Vegas Community Center. “It dilutes our available workforce. It denies families livable wages.”
Every county — rural and urban — is a child care desert following the COVID-19 pandemic, the report said. It also showed that more than 65 percent of Nevada children reside in households where both parents work and need access to child care.
“The good news is that there are financial resources to help these families,” Goynes-Brown said.
Child care proponents are urging families to reapply for child care subsidies after the program was expanded last year by $50 million. Families making $60,000 to $70,000 per year for a household of four are now eligible for subsidies — nearly double the previous income threshold, which limited access to subsidies to families that make up to 130 percent of the poverty level, or $36,075 a year for a family of four.
Through the Nevada Child Care Fund campaign, which is a public-private partnership with the Children’s Cabinet, people can expect to see advertisements about expanded child care subsidy options on buses, bus stop shelters and in print, as well as hear messages on the radio spreading the word to parents across the state about the newly expanded options. Caregivers can use state-funded vouchers for home-based or facility-based child care.
“There is another bigger problem,” Goynes-Brown said. “There are simply not enough providers to meet the demand.”
Nevada is home to roughly 177,000 children younger than 5 years old, with only 445 licensed child care facilities in Southern Nevada and 195 licensed child care providers in Washoe County, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.
Analysts are still determining how many centers are needed, but note that many ZIP codes have up to three kids waiting for every slot available for early childhood education. Additionally, child care can cost families more than in-state college tuition.
“Elevating the voices of underserved and often overlooked communities is a top priority … to make sure that child care services and funding are being allocated equitably,” said Ken Evans, vice chair of the GWDB, in a January press release.
Nevada was allocated $571 million in American Rescue Plan and Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act funding for child care purposes, which has been mostly spent, according to GWDB, but experts are unclear how the money helped families afford child care, leading the governor’s workforce board to call for an audit of the Department of Health and Human Services.
“It's not about trying to find an error from someone,” said Lisa Levine, director of the Nevada Governor’s Office of Workforce Innovation (GOWINN) in an interview with Nevada Public Radio (NPR) last month. “It is to find out and show the federal government we wisely spent this but we need much more to be able to satisfy the needs in our state.”
Danielle Holmes, operations director at the Children’s Cabinet, said it is important that all children have access to high-quality early childhood programs because it is critical to brain development.
She said to beef up capacity, the organization helps prospective providers receive grant funding to open child care facilities. Nevadans can also get training and business consultations for opening a child care center through Children’s Cabinet along with Wonderschool.com which services states across the nation virtually or the Nevada Strong Start Child Care services center.
“Funding is the main [concern],” Holmes said. “Some of the barriers … that families face [include] transporting their children to child care or maybe not having one accessible in their community.”
The policy report, which comes with recommendations for legislators, highlighted how public transportation could better support child care infrastructure if bus routes were aligned with child care facilities. The task force behind the report suggested that space inside public libraries across the state could be utilized for child care and leased for $1 a year, mirroring a program with Workforce Connections and Clark County Libraries. Libraries are already aligned with public transportation systems.
The report also revealed that many businesses are unaware of child care tax abatements, which have gone underutilized. According to the Washington, D.C.-based Bipartisan Policy Center the tax credit is capped at $150,000.
“So that right there is an opportunity for us to expand infrastructure,” Levine said. She told NPR that GOWINN conducted a business survey from Dec. 15 to Jan. 15 and found that almost 90 percent of businesses that responded were unaware of the 45F Child Care Tax Credit.
Here are the GWDB’s recommendations for child care:
- Create child care hubs to service clusters of job sites that are integrated with existing public transportation routes.
- Utilize existing vacant or underutilized public spaces such as libraries and recreational centers.
- Offer tax incentives to employers who provide child care services in underutilized for-profit spaces.
- Expand partnerships with nonprofit organizations.
- Convene collaborative partnerships so more organizations have a seat at the table and can be part of the solutions.
- Audit the Department of Health and Human Services to see how new funding has helped families.
Efforts to patch up child care gaps
The challenge to build child care capacity in Nevada influenced leaders to increase funding by millions of dollars or seek new departments. One bill seeks to create an Office of Early Childhood Systems within the governor's office that would “mobilize resources, children and families to create stronger partnerships with nonprofit and the private sector,” as well as establish equitable access to programs and services.
This comes after former Gov. Steve Sisolak used federal stimulus money to launch a one-time $50 million investment to expand child care subsidies to families with higher incomes, and million-dollar child care hubs launched in Reno and Las Vegas this year to support providers and boost availability.
Leaders also launched Wonderschool last year, which is an online digital platform that prepares people to open and run home-based, high-quality child care businesses in 15 cities across the nation, as well as fostering a community for providers and families. Through the platform, providers can manage their business and resources online, build community, receive coaching and share updates with families all in one place.
With child care deserts straining infrastructure throughout the country, here are a few strategies leaders are looking to in Nevada to tackle the “mounting challenge” and lean on expanding subsidies.
Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman said child care is one of the most important issues facing the state, community and workforce. According to the U.S Census, Las Vegas is home to more than 646,000 people, including nearly 39,000 children below age 5 who make up 6 percent of the city’s population.
“I want to recognize that child care should not be only about babysitting,” said Goodman at the Children’s Cabinet event. “That is not what it does. It should be and must be about early education.”
Goodman said Las Vegas has a variety of programs that families can access such as Safekey, which offers before and after school programming on school campuses, Strong Start Early Learning Academies that prepare preschoolers for kindergarten, and four new mobile academies, or child care buses, to bring pre-K to underserved areas.
Two bus academies service the west side — one on Washington Avenue and D Street and another on Lake Mead and J Street. Two bus academies service the east side, with one on Mojave Road and Washington Avenue and the other on Mojave Road and Stewart Avenue.
Henderson Mayor Michelle Romero said that even after bringing training programs to the city in partnership with Amazon, Google and Haas Automation manufacturing, parents struggle to take advantage of those opportunities because of the child care shortage.
“I'm here to express my city’s support for encouraging upward income mobility by making child care assistance available to those actively pursuing new career opportunities,” Romero said.
She said the same resources that are available for struggling families should be available for children whose parents are in workforce transitions.
North Las Vegas
Goynes-Brown said accessing child care resources can be confusing for parents and that sometimes they do not know help exists. She said the bigger problem is child care deserts or shortages where providers don’t meet the demand.
Goynes-Brown said she wants to focus on increasing the capacity for in-home child care where a grandmother, aunt or relative could qualify for a subsidy. North Las Vegas is home to more than 274,000 people, including nearly 20,000 children younger than age 5, who make up 7.2 percent of the city’s population.
“We want to encourage in-home providers to become licensed so we can make licensing easier, less complicated and more affordable,” Goynes-Brown said. “Licensing should not be a barrier. It should be an opportunity.”
Once licensed, providers could command a higher pay rate.
Washoe County is looking to beef up its capacity to meet child care needs after seeing a 33 percent decrease in services since 2013. Washoe County is home to more than 493,000 people, including more than 26,000 children below age 5, who make up 5.4 percent of the county’s population.
County leaders want to focus on getting more people to become licensed providers at child care facilities and in-home centers to meet the demands of families who are on waitlists. According to a UNLV and Brookings Mountain West 500-person survey included in the child care report, nearly half of respondents believe that paying child care workers more would help build up the child care workforce.
Child care workers start off making $9-$13 per hour and typically make up to $18 per hour with a college degree or experience. The $18-an-hour rate would put the annual pay at just above $37,000 a year for a full-time employee.
Ely/White Pine County
The fewer than 10,000 people who make up White Pine County, a mining community that includes Ely, have access to two licensed child care facilities for about 512 children who are age 5 or younger, according to Amanda Hilton, general manager of KGHM Robinson copper mine. Both facilities have specific criteria and are only open nine to 10 months a year.
Hilton said it’s not uncommon on a Sunday night to see Facebook posts on the White Pine County community Facebook page where someone is asking if someone else is able to watch a child the next day, so a parent can go to work.
“I think about the desperation that those parents must be feeling to put it out on Facebook, to ask for help,” she said in February at a GWDB meeting. “And they’re asking people they don’t even know, or they may not even trust. That demonstrates the desperation some of our parents are feeling.”
Hilton said the Robinson mine donated $500,000 to a joint project with the Boys and Girls Club to revitalize a vacant kindergarten building and lease it from the White Pine County School District to help fill child care gaps with an early learning center focused on kindergarten readiness. Additional funding was given by the City of Ely, William Bee Ririe Hospital and community organizations to reach $2.8 million for the project, but more funds are needed.
The facility is expected to serve 65 children.
“Ninety percent of brain development occurs before the age of 5,” said Holmes, the Children’s Cabinet official. “Ensuring all children have access to high-quality early childhood programs is critical to their individual development and their ability to contribute.”
This story was updated at 8:02 A.M. on April 5, 2023 to emphasize that Lisa Levine's quotes were taken from an NPR interview.