Access to affordable, high-quality childcare is a critical issue in Indiana. Critical, to everyone except Indiana’s supermajority Republican Legislature. Countless families across the state are grappling with exorbitant costs, limited availability, and substandard quality of care. The business community cites the lack of available childcare for their low productivity. In fact, the Indiana Chamber of Commerce listed the childcare crisis as a top legislative priority. Rural Indiana suffers the most from childcare deserts, keeping women from higher education and meaningful employment, and families from self-sustainability. The Indiana Farm Bureau even listed childcare as a top legislative priority.
When the Indiana State Legislature released their final budget, we saw their priorities regarding the childcare crisis. It includes over $500 million for earmarks, or “pork”, for the benefit of their wealthy besties. Some examples include almost $90 million for a sports arena at IUPUI (think online gaming). $75 million to subsidize the construction industry with development infrastructure funding. Another $37.5 million for an adventure park at the River Heritage Conservancy. $30 million to support the orthopedic manufacturing industry in Warsaw, Indiana - really? Another $30 million for a vague plan to “increase population” and jobs in NE Indiana. A 7,200-acre industrial development near South Bend also gets $30 million to expand. And, $14 million for the Indiana Motorsports Commission. There were other one-time expenditures, but nothing to support Indiana’s childcare infrastructure.
For a minute, let’s imagine how far $500 million would go toward improving access to good childcare. We know from myriad research that access to high-quality early childhood education improves children’s educational, social, and emotional development, as well as their long-term financial success and quality of life. One-time funding to improve home and center-based structures, equipment, curriculum, outdoor learning spaces, licensing fees, property tax abatements, and more would free up revenue to pay higher wages to their currently underpaid staff.
The State could provide childcare employers with subsidies to hire, train, and certify great childcare providers (the most critical factor in high-quality childcare), just like Indiana does for the manufacturing industry. How about subsidizing childcare tuition for families making more than 150% of poverty? Afterall, the state provides families who make up to 300% of poverty with tuition subsidies to pay for private and charter schools.
Unfortunately, that’s not the Indiana we live in. Instead of tackling the childcare crisis, Indiana's Republican legislators chose to allocate obscene amounts of money – almost ten times more than in the last budget - to corporate campaign donors who use the debunked “trickle-down economics” pretense as cover for their political insider trading. I wonder how much time in closed caucus meetings our Republican legislators spent fighting over how much all their big donors would get.
I don’t wonder so much about whether they spent any time at all strategizing about the childcare crisis. Men who make up 75% of our legislators and 100% of the Republican leadership do not feel the pain of childcare like women feel it. We know for sure that they don’t spend a single minute thinking about women’s health, maternal mortality, safe reproductive and abortion care, women’s unfair pay, or the epidemic of domestic and sexual violence against women and girls. Until we elect more women and achieve fair representation in the Indiana State Legislature, the childcare crisis will continue to be just another example of the Indiana State Legislature’s agenda to keep Hoosier women uneducated, unhealthy, and poor.