There’s a childcare crunch in Oklahoma, and working families are struggling because of it. Two bills in the state Legislature aim to get more children in public pre-Ks and provide an oasis for Oklahoma’s childcare desert so more parents can return to the workforce. To get there, it will take a multi-pronged, multi-year approach that supports parents, employers and providers.
Two bills written by Rep. Suzanne Schreiber, D-Tulsa, and the Childcare Receives Investment from Business (CRIB) Act, authored by Sen. Jessica Garvin, R-Duncan, will help fix Oklahoma’s childcare crunch — a problem that must be remedied before there will be a resolve to the workforce crisis.
Ending childcare deserts
Over 50 percent of Oklahomans live in a childcare desert. High costs, low wages and thin margins make it difficult to start and operate childcare facilities. As a result, Oklahoma has seen a steep decline in childcare facilities since 2012. There were over 4,000 facilities in the state in 2012 compared to just 2,954 in 2021. The lack of childcare negatively impacts workforce participation. Mothers in particular are disproportionality impacted. There has been a 6.1 percent decline in workforce labor participation among Oklahoma mothers who have children ranging in age from infant to four years old.
Even if a parent is fortunate to get their child into a childcare facility, they still must find a way to pay for it — and that’s no small sum. Oklahoma is one of the top 10 most expensive states for childcare costs, with families spending 6.9 percent of their income on childcare in 2020.
Garvin’s CRIB Act and Schreiber’s House Bill 2451 would alleviate some of the financial burden by providing tax credits to employers who either expand or establish childcare facilities or provide financial assistance to employees for childcare. House Bill 2451 also aims to remedy the childcare center and worker shortage, by providing a tax credit to childcare workers.
Ending burdensome bureaucracy
Access to affordable, quality childcare is a driver behind Oklahoma’s workforce shortage. Attempts to further saddle childcare providers with unnecessary regulation puts licensed childcare facilities out of business and leaves families without quality childcare.
House Bill 2452 by Schreiber codifies childcare facilities licensed by the Oklahoma Department of Human Services (DHS) are not subject to stricter local regulations.
Licensed childcare facilities must comply with strict safety regulations — Oklahoma’s DHS has a reputation nationally for being the gold standard when it comes to childcare facility regulation. DHS has the knowledge and expertise to know what keeps kids safe — and what doesn’t. Local governments do not. Schreiber’s bill streamlines regulations concerning the licensing of Oklahoma childcare facilities, ensuring centers operate safely and efficiently.
If signed into law, these bills will expand childcare across the state, and families will be the beneficiaries. Parents will once again be able to reenter the workforce while their children are cared for in a nurturing environment that will help them learn, grow and flourish.
Jennifer Ellis is President/CEO Cosmetic Specialty Labs and wrote this column for the Oklahoma State Chamber of Commerce.