childcare

When Evan Taylor heard that Oklahoma teachers planned to walkout, he converted his small Tulsa church into a "glorified daycare" furnished with board games, crafts and a movies to keep kids entertained.

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Updated 5:25 p.m.

Public schools from every corner of the state closed their doors today as teachers walked out of the classroom and marched at the Oklahoma capitol to protest years of cuts to education funding.

Last week, Governor Mary Fallin signed the first statewide tax increase in nearly 30 years to give teachers a roughly $6,100 raise. The nearly $450 million deal increased taxes on cigarettes, fuel and oil and gas production in hopes of heading off the teacher walkout.

One of the most stressful questions a new parent confronts is, "Who's going to take care of my baby when I go back to work?"

Figuring out the answer to that question is often not easy. When NPR, along with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, surveyed more than 1,000 parents nationwide about their child care experiences, a third reported difficulty finding care.

Student parent.

Ever heard that term? It's used for a student who is also a parent, and there are nearly 5 million of them in colleges around the country. That's over a quarter of the undergraduate population, and that number has gone up by around a million since 2011.

It can be really, really expensive to be a student parent, especially if you need to pay for child care while you're in class.

In Greensboro, N.C., Eyeisha Holt spends her days as a full-time child care worker at Head Start. But after a decade's work in early education she still earns only $11.50 an hour — barely enough, she says, to cover the basics as a single mom of two. So every weekday evening she heads to her second job, as a babysitter.

"Are you ready to go to bed?" she asks, as she oversees bath time for her 3-year-old daughter and another of her charges. For 25 hours a week, Holt cares for toddler twins, in addition to her daughter and teenage son.

There are rating systems for hospitals, nursing homes and doctors. So why is it so hard to compare providers of child care?

Part of the reason is that there are no nationally agreed-upon standards for what determines the quality of child care. The standards that do exist are formulated in each state, and they vary widely.

For example, some states require that child care workers have a teaching certificate. Others require certain college courses. Some have strict ratios of how many caregivers are required per child.

Most parents have experienced sticker shock when they find out just how much it will cost to care for their infant or toddler full- or even part-time. For parents who have little choice, this can be a big financial strain.

In fact, the most common challenge parents face when looking for child care is the high cost. That's the finding of a recent poll from NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Life is pretty busy for Mike Buchmann, a high school art teacher and football coach, and his wife Shannon, who works as an assistant controller at a small private college near their home in Mishawaka, Ind.

Everyone is out the door by 7:45 each morning: Mike shuttles their two older kids to before-school care, while Shannon drops off their 14-month-old at a church-based child care center before they head off to their full-time jobs.

When Jolie Ritzo was looking for day care for her son Cannon in Falmouth, Maine, she checked out as many centers as she could.

She was looking for a place with the right feel.

"Most importantly, the people who are providing the care are loving and kind, nurturing and interested in developing these little beings," she says.

There was one center in town that had a great reputation, but it was so pricey, Ritzo says, "It would break the bank."

American parents often have difficulty securing care for their children while they go to work. Child care in the U.S. is tremendously expensive, and in many parts of the country, extremely scarce.

Rewind almost 50 years, and the same problems existed.

But in 1971, the United States came very close to having universal, federally subsidized child care. NPR examines how Congress came to pass the legislation, and why President Nixon vetoed it.

Pages