I see the Globe is currently doing a series on affordable child care. It’s a good series, but it’s striking how different the tone is from public discussions on higher education, despite the evident similarities between the two policy fields.
This occurred to me a few months ago while reading a Globe op-ed from a new-ish parent, wondering why daycare was so unaffordable. It was framed in the Globe’s very weird, class-politics manner, as: “My wife and I make $100,000 and we can’t afford daycare”.
(Sidebar for non-Torontonians: the tribes of downtown “Tronna” have literally no idea that a $100K family income puts them around the 80th income percentile, and that such whining makes the rest of Canada want to smack them upside the head. Nice people, but clueless in this respect.)
One meme which keeps popping up here is that daycare users should receive greater subsidies, as day care is an expense that people incur at a time in their lives when they’re just starting out, have less capital, etc. In higher ed, our answer to this problem is loans, which provide precisely this kind of income-smoothing. So why not provide loans to help people afford daycare?
Think about it: both Early Childhood Education (ECE) and higher education are non-compulsory forms of education, which is why we ask people to pay for them (compulsory education should always be free). In universities and colleges, we generously underwrite the education providers, and provide need-based aid – part loan, part grant – to help people who can’t afford to cover the remaining costs. In most of the country, daycares are funded similarly, if less generously. The outliers are Quebec, where funding comes almost entirely through core grants (with a little extra assistance available to low-income parents), and Ontario, where it comes mostly through individual fees (though significant subsidies for lower-income families exist). Thus, outside Quebec, net price for daycare is on a sliding scale based on income, just as it is for university and college (though subsidies for daycare are MUCH simpler, and more transparent, than those for student aid – PSE could learn a lot from ECE in this respect).
So why not daycare loans (or “extended payment plans”, if the word “loans” is too icky)? Why not give people like the author of this Globe op-ed piece – that is, people just outside the subsidy range (at $1500/month in fees, the subsidy in Toronto disappears at around $92,000), and who find it too burdensome to pay 25% of their after-tax income on daycare – a break by letting them pay fees over 6-8 years, rather than 3-4? Unlike students, these are people with steady incomes – costs to the public should be minimal.