Tax reform has been on Congress’ agenda since President Trump was elected. But while much of the ink dedicated to discussing reform efforts has focused on topics like border adjustability or closing loopholes, lawmakers in our nation’s capital have the ability to make high-quality early learning and childcare more accessible for hardworking Americans by enhancing existing tax credits and deductions for families.
Recently, Sen. Marco Rubio and White House adviser Ivanka Trump met to discuss how Congress’ overhaul of the tax code could be a tool to support families during the earliest years of their child’s life.
As executive director of the First Five Years Fund, I am encouraged by their initiative. Taking steps to improve access to high-quality early childhood education must be a policy priority, and tax reform presents a good opportunity to help families who struggle with the cost of quality childcare.
In Florida, center-based childcare costs more than $8,700 per year on average. For many families in the state, this cost makes up almost 20 percent of their annual income. Every parent wants the best for their child, but it is becoming increasingly difficult for parents to find childcare options that are both affordable and high quality.
Evidence tells us that in the first few years of life, children’s brains are growing rapidly, and the developmental experiences they have before entering kindergarten are crucial to their healthy cognitive growth and future success. High-quality childcare programs are proven to support children — especially those from low-income families — during this critical time, further emphasizing the need to make such programs accessible.
Tax reform may seem like an unlikely vehicle for improving access to these critical opportunities, but by strengthening existing childcare tax credits and deductions for families, Congress has the chance to truly help working parents.
While the existing tax structure includes numerous provisions to help families offset higher education costs, very few incentives exist to offset early childhood education expenses. Changing this dynamic is crucial, not just for the well-being of today’s children, but for the economic health of our country as well.
Common-sense measures such as expanding the Child Care Dependent Tax Credit and making it refundable can help families cover a greater percentage of childcare expenses and ensure that those that need access to childcare the most can get it.
Americans on both sides of the aisle recognize the need to improve access to high-quality early learning and care. In fact, during this time of heightened political polarization, early childhood education remains a policy area with significant bipartisan support.
A new poll from the First Five Years Fund finds that 81 percent of Republican, independent, and Democratic voters support providing a tax credit to help parents better afford quality childcare and early education, with low- and middle-income parents who need more help getting a larger credit. This broad bipartisan support is further proof that Americans, no matter their political identity, recognize the importance of high-quality early childhood education.
This year, members of Congress, including Florida Sens. Rubio and Bill Nelson, have the opportunity to work together for families by increasing access to quality early care and learning. These lawmakers have the full support of voters, too: 84 percent of Floridians say making sure children get a strong start in life through quality early childhood education is extremely or very important to them personally.
Families in Florida are not alone in supporting increased access to childcare. Across the country, 89 percent of voters support making quality early education for children from birth through age 5, including childcare, more affordable for working families to give children a strong start.
While not the only option available for Congress to help America’s families access quality childcare, tax reform is a timely tool for policymakers to act on this public support and develop sound tax policies that will make an impact on the lives of working families. It’s time for Congress to put early care and learning at the top of its priority list and expand access to high quality programs for children in the Sunshine State and across the country.
Kris Perry serves as the Executive Director of the First Five Years Fund in Washington, D.C.