MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Tennessee lawmakers are considering a bill that would give state employees a new childcare option by allowing daycares to open in state owned or leased buildings.
The measure introduced by Memphis Senator Sara Kyle is now in committee.
Private operators would bid on contracts to run the daycare and charge parents based on their income.
New research shows average infant care in Tennessee costs more than half the price of the average rent, about a quarter of the price for in-state college tuition.
It's simply unaffordable for some Mid-Southerners, but there are programs to help, if in some cases you're willing to wait.
When it was time to go back to work, Stephanie White knew what she wanted in a daycare for her son, but she wasn't sure she could get it at a price that worked for her family.
“I knew the value of education just from where it could advance me, but I also knew the pricing could be very expensive,” White said. “So, trying to find a place I was a little leery.”
Four years ago she started sending her son to Toddler Town in Hickory Hill. It cost $160 a week for infant care and now $135 a week for pre-k, which fits her budget.
"I'm very education based, and I'm on the affordable end,” said Brandy Boyland, director and owner of Toddler Town.
Researchers at the Economic Policy Institute in Washington say on average, Tennesseans pay $488 a month in infant care costs, $376 a month for child care.
With the median household income of $52,000 a year in Tennessee, EPI says daycare costs are unaffordable.
"A typical standard may be you shouldn't spend more than 10 percent of your income on child care,” said Elise Gould, Senior economist with Economic Policy Institute. “Other affordability says it shouldn't be above seven percent. Even if we use the most conservative 10 percent measure about half of Tennessee families would not be able to afford childcare."
A recent study by the University of Memphis shows 20 percent of Shelby County families fall beneath the poverty line. Nearly 35 percent have young children.
"If you look at the poverty rate for Memphis and Shelby County that clearly tells you that paying for private childcare can definitely be a challenge for those families,” said Karen Harrell, Senior Vice President of Early Childhood Services at Porter-Leath.
Help is available from organizations like Porter-Leath, which serves more than 6,000 children from low-income households, through federally funded early head start and head start programs.
Currently, more than 500 families are on Porter-Leath’s wait list.
"It is free, but it's also a comprehensive program,” Harrell said. “Unfortunately a family can be on a waiting list anywhere from a year or so."
The Department of Human Services’ Smart Steps program is another resource.
The program gives subsidies to child care providers like Toddler Town in Hickory Hill and Little House Enrichment Center in South Memphis, who then sign up qualifying families.
"It only costs you paperwork,” said Deborah Brantley, CEO and Director of Little House Enrichment Center. “If you qualify then it will save you something.”
There are work and/or school requirements for income-eligible parents.
Parent Antonio Miller qualified for the program.
"I don't want to be a deadbeat dad or be on any child support,” Miller said. “I asked her if it will harm me or put me on child support and she said no. So, read into it, and it helped me."
DHS is currently re-evaluating how subsidies are granted, potentially providing even more funding to child care providers under the Smart Steps umbrella.
It’s a welcome opportunity for Mid-South families and the people they trust to care for their children.
"To be able to find a place that actually fits into your budget and provides quality care you can't put a price on it,” White said.
"This is an awesome industry, and I love it,” Brantley said. “I want to see it grow. I want people to look at us as educators not babysitters."
For more information, visit Porter-Leath’s website.