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Q&A: Sen. Claire Wilson — “Child care is no longer a program for poverty.”

Child care is top-of-mind for Sen. Claire Wilson, who has spent decades working in early education. In Olympia, she serves as vice chair of the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee and has worked on legislation including the 2021 Fair Start for Kids Act

The Child Care Collaborative Task Force released several recommendations on how to increase supply and reduce the cost of child care for Washington State families. You can read our story on those recommendations here. The Wire circled back with Sen. Wilson to talk about child care, increasing subsidy payments to child care providers, and how the capital gains tax plays into this. 

Aaron Kunkler: The Fair Start for Kids Act passed last session and did a number of things, including increasing subsidy rates for child care providers. How significant was the 2021 session for child care?

Sen. Claire Wilson: “I hope people understand that the legislation that we passed was historic, and landmark. I think it was huge, because it certainly is not done, because it’s very complex. It really is the roadmap for work we have to continue to do … The implementation is critical. It’s one thing to write legislation, but the next thing is — and the most important thing is — how it actually gets implemented, and also how it is impacting and touching those people that need it the most. 

As I think about this, the whole landscape of early learning and this next session, as a short session, is really making sure that with fidelity, and with equity, that we are making sure that all sides … are actually accessing what’s available — whether you’re a parent or a family member looking for care, or whether you are a business who’s trying to figure out how to bring individuals and employees back into the workplace … or whether you’re a family who is in a situation where you’re looking for care for your children.” 

AK: What kind of considerations do you have as you think about implementing the legislation equitably?

CW: “It’s critical that that work is done with an equity lens, and also with language access in mind. That’s a big piece. People say, well, you’re done [with legislation]. It’s like, no, we’ve set the stage and but there’s work we continue to have to do. 

For me, if you look at individual legislation, there’s still a few things that I think that weren’t necessarily underneath the Fair Start for Kids Act that come up, or issues that we still need to think about. One of them is a bill that did not make it through that I dropped last session about when [someone is] applying for unemployment, whether child care subsidy should be counted as income. Or whether what we pay for childcare should be calculated in a different way. If you have no one to care for your children, and you’re not making money, how is it that you’re going to look for work? Whether that’s on a computer or in person, there’s time and attention that needs to be paid, and that’s a difficult thing to do.

…It’s been ongoing, and it will continue with another report due on November 22 related specifically to the cost quality. I think the conversation around salary, and that whole idea of pay and pay equity [for child care workers], that’s another piece of work as we look at salary parity, [as] we look at benefits and such, that’s something that we’ve not been able to tackle. I think many of those things are far within the recommendations on the collaborative report, that are next steps and things that the collaborative would like to continue their focus on 

…How is it that we create parity in that space of birth through age five, before kids cross the kindergarten door, with individuals who are skilled and educated and need to be also valued for their work? Because right now, so many [workers] are eligible for assistance themselves. And that should just never be so. 

So that parity piece is important, but we also have to have a revenue source. As much as people don’t like to hear that, I think that’s one of the pieces of the importance of the capital gains tax that was passed. It will provide an ongoing [funding] source, so we actually will be able to perhaps create a way that those things will happen. Because when we’re talking childcare and children, you can’t just keep raising the cost. 

AK: How important will the capital gains tax be to funding child care subsidy programs?

CW: “I think that’s part of this whole issue, that there is no entitlement, there isn’t basic education that says for every student who crosses the door at age five, it is our paramount duty to educate. There’s not an equal opportunity, it’s not the same thing as K-12. We also know family structures have changed. So we have families that have to go to work and in order to work, they have to have somebody to care for their kids. 

How do we engage providers in taking subsidies? The way you engage and motivate is that you actually pay maybe what it costs to care for kids, because we’ve never done that. And oftentimes individuals in the higher incomes say that they are paying for families on subsidies. Because when you’re on a subsidy and the provider can only get 75% of the rate or 85% of the rate [for providing child care], there’s an inequity built in our systems. The only way we are going to be able to provide an equitable system is to figure out where families are, and know that all families need support, and some families may need fiscal support. 

…If we support families early, it is your best return on investment. It will save those millions of dollars that we’re spending on what people like to call the school-to-prison pipeline. All that is, is people that didn’t get their needs met when they were young. 

I am a proponent of safety nets. I’m a proponent of supporting families, and I am one that will say that child care is no longer a program for poverty. It’s a program that families need in order to be economically self-sufficient, and to be able to live in the community that they want to live in, and be contributing members, which is what most individuals are looking for.

So capital gains is merely an opportunity to say, ‘Here’s a way that we have an ongoing source of revenue.’ We’ll help support the needs of hundreds of thousands of children and the families they’re connected with across the state of Washington, and that all families all along the [income] continuum need to have that support, we need to first start with those farthest from opportunity.”

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