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OPINION: Addressing childcare deserts, what does it mean for working families? (sponsored)

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“I don’t know if you’re married, but with the door knocking and phone calls, how can your campaign be successful if you also take care of your son? You know most women don’t think of those things until they’ve already jumped in,” he asked. After enduring twenty minutes of complaints about the failures of local women in elected office, I quickly retorted, “I wonder if the male candidates also get asked that?” 

While his comment was cutting, it laid bare the grueling double standard for women, which persists even in 2024: we are still viewed as the matriarchs of child-rearing and simultaneously expected to contribute financially to our households.

Maybe this stranger’s off-base remark wasn’t so far off. Women have a structural disadvantage that works against us. We are more likely than men to reduce our work hours, take lower-paying jobs, or leave the workforce entirely to manage childcare responsibilities due to barriers to access and rising costs. With a dual-income household, childcare was a necessity for my family, and putting my then 10-month-old son in daycare still resulted in a huge financial hit for me and my husband, not to mention the arduous process to land a slot in the first place.

My son was on waitlist after waitlist, and I spent every morning calling to find any classroom opening for his age group. Ultimately, it costs us $1300 a month, the average cost of daycare tuition for our region. But I digress…this isn’t an op-ed about me but about the fact that childcare deserts are widespread across Nevada, with rural areas and low-income neighborhoods being particularly affected. A 2023 report by Nevada’s Governor’s Workforce Development Board found that nearly 75 percent of children ages 0-5 don’t have access to licensed child care. 

This burden isn’t just impacting women, caretakers, and working families; it’s directly affecting our children’s development. Research has shown that early childhood education (pre-k) is directly associated with higher math and reading skills and is one of the most significant precursors to graduating from high school and attending college. This is especially important when considering the limited access to pre-k in marginalized communities. We aren’t just educating children to get good grades; we are educating children for life.

So what is the hold-up, and how can I help address this on the Reno City Council?

The typical timeline for opening center-based childcare from application to licensure can take anywhere from nine to twelve months, and many residential zoning districts prohibit commercial childcare facilities or require a special use permit, which can cost thousands of dollars. Zoning restrictions and high overhead costs are barriers to entry for new daycares to open in our region. As a result, daycares often end up near pollution-clogged roadways and freeway overpasses rather than in residential neighborhoods where they would be most convenient and beneficial. 

In addition, subsidy shortfalls have simultaneously left childcare too expensive for parents and not netting enough money for providers. Subsidies and public funding are often inadequate and limit the ability of existing providers to only serve a subset of low-income families. The Child Care and Development Program (CCDP), funded through the Division of Welfare and Supportive Services, pays a portion of childcare costs for eligible families based on household income and family size. Though the CCDP received historic funding from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), this funding is soon ending, which could leave many children without care.

Laying the groundwork to solve our childcare crisis doesn’t mean we need to reinvent the wheel; instead, we can model how other municipalities have addressed this problem. Denver and Las Vegas have successfully launched their Illuminate Colorado and Strong Start Go Mobile Pre-K Academy, which use retrofitted busses and RVs as daycares on wheels that can set up near employment, behavioral health, and substance treatment centers so parents seeking support can get on-site, drop-in care for their infants and toddlers. Alternatively, cities like Rapid City, Michigan and Sioux Falls, Idaho are piloting a tri-share model in which childcare is split into thirds and shared across parents, employers, and a city, state, or community fund.

Prioritizing early childhood education is one of the most valuable public investments any community can make. Mitigating childcare deserts in our region will require a multifaceted approach that combines increased funding, regulatory reform, and strong community partnerships. To achieve this, I am committed to addressing zoning roadblocks and amending fee regulations that hinder the establishment of more childcare facilities.

Additionally, I will strive to eliminate barriers that increase overhead operating costs and monthly tuition, making childcare more affordable for families. I will push for Reno to create a full-time position dedicated to coordinating childcare efforts in collaboration with our community partners and will advocate for incentives for new businesses coming to our region to provide on-site childcare facilities. 

​​Addressing childcare deserts in Northern Nevada isn’t just crucial for the well-being of families, caretakers, and the broader economy. It gives highly qualified members of the working class a chance to run a fierce political campaign, start a business, change careers, or go back to school and live their dreams (like men do).

As a parent and educator, I understand that equitable and sustainable learning environments are essential for the success of our future generations. I will carry these experiences to Reno City Council and support every effort to keep childcare options accessible, affordable, and abundant for Reno families. I ask for your vote on or before June 11th.

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Tara Webster is a candidate for Reno City Council Ward 5. She is a community outreach advocate and an experienced higher education science and engineering educator, specializing in justice-centered learning of social and political issues in STEM. Learn more about her campaign and vision for Reno at www.VoteTaraWebster.com

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