The holiday season has arrived, and OICA is preparing a “wish list” for lawmakers in advance of the next legislative session. Our 2020 Children’s Legislative Agenda is driven by the work that occurred at this year’s Fall Forum and will be submitted to legislators (and available online at OICA.org) by the end of this week.
To give you a sneak peek, our agenda will focus on four primary areas: education and early childhood development; at-risk youth policies; responsible criminal justice reforms; and physical and behavioral health. Our agenda includes specific suggestions and legislative or policy actions that we believe can move the needle in each of these categories.
While most of our agenda focuses on state-level policies, we are also asking Oklahoma’s U.S. congressional delegation to continue to engage on one federal issue which we believe could have a major impact in Oklahoma and nationwide. Currently, day care is not considered a qualified 529 plan expense (a 529 plan is a privately funded education savings investment account that comes with tax benefits, similar to a 401K retirement plan). Since 2018, these plans have been eligible to help cover the costs of K-12 as well as college tuition. Parents looking to pay for daycare, however, are subject to ordinary income tax and a 10% penalty. We would like to see this changed so more families can readily afford day care.
Why is access to day care important? Beyond the obvious (someone has to provide reliable and safe care for young children, and day care is the only option for many working parents), day care also sets up children to perform better when they get to school. A 2016 University of Virginia study found that by age 5, kids who attended formal child care programs had stronger reading and math skills compared to kids who attended informal, home-based care programs.
Day care offers a great opportunity for your kids to socialize at a young age, and in turn, it can help them learn communication skills as well. Another study by Radboud University in the Netherlands found that children who go to day care may benefit from a wider variety of social and communicative situations relative to children who do not go to day care. The former have a heightened ability to adjust their non-verbal communication to take into account the age of the person they are playing with. Yet another study, this one conducted over 30 years by the FPG Child Development Institute at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, found that adults who had been enrolled as infants in a high-quality child care program are four times more likely to have earned a college degree and are more likely to remain consistently employed.
We hope that federal lawmakers will also see the benefits of extending day care support through a 529 saving plan for a qualified child care provider. We also believe it’s appropriate for Oklahoma and its lawmakers to be trailblazers on this issue. Reaching for the Stars is the name of Oklahoma’s Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS) for child care centers. Oklahoma was the first state in the nation to implement a QRIS. The majority of other states have now implemented some form of a quality rating and improvement system.
Expanding the role of 529 savings accounts to cover the cost of daycare expenses is a win for children and a win for many parents who might not otherwise be able to afford day care. We hope that Oklahoma’s congressional delegation will help us to make progress on this issue and deliver a win with national consequences.