Guest Essays, Letters to the Editor, Opinion

Guest essay: Childcare advocates unite amid legislative failure

by Tiffany Dawn Gale

The West Virginia Legislature’s recent failure to pass any childcare bills, including the crucial House Bill 4797 aimed at reforming reimbursement for childcare providers, has dealt a significant blow to families statewide. The bill, focusing on enrollment-based reimbursement rather than daily attendance, was pivotal for ensuring stability and financial security for childcare facilities, which directly impacts workforce participation.

Access to affordable and reliable childcare is essential for parents’ ability to engage in the workforce. Currently, 42.6% of children in West Virginia who need childcare cannot access it, forcing many parents, particularly mothers, to choose between their careers and childcare responsibilities. This dilemma hampers economic growth and perpetuates workforce disparities.

The economic ramifications of failing to address childcare issues extend beyond individual families, impacting the state’s overall prosperity. A well-supported childcare system facilitates increased workforce participation, driving productivity and economic growth. By neglecting childcare legislation, the Legislature impedes economic development and perpetuates systemic barriers to prosperity.

In response to the Legislature’s inaction, childcare advocates, including providers, families, businesses and organizations, are mobilizing like never before. Initiatives such as the “Day Without Childcare” on May 13 aim to underscore childcare’s essential role in supporting working families and the economy. Additional efforts, such as town halls and candidate forums, are being considered to highlight the critical need for legislative action.

Despite the associated costs, investing in high-quality early childhood education yields significant returns, as evidenced by research showing a 13% return on investment. This holistic approach addresses various life outcomes and aligns with the Legislature’s purported goals for the state.

Gov. Jim Justice has expressed willingness to call a special session to address childcare legislation but has focused on tax credits rather than stabilization measures like enrollment-based reimbursements. Advocates emphasize the urgent need for such measures to prevent childcare providers from closing and to ensure the industry’s stability.

It is imperative that lawmakers prioritize the needs of working families and take meaningful action to reform and improve the childcare system. Investing in childcare is not only a matter of social welfare but also an investment in the economic vitality and future success of West Virginia. During special session, advocates urge Gov. Justice and legislators to focus on enrollment-based reimbursements to stabilize the childcare industry and support working families across the state.

Tiffany Dawn Gale is the owner and director of Miss Tiffany’s Early Childhood Education House in Weirton.