Quality child care could be getting more affordable for low-income Philadelphians. Councilman Kenyatta Johnson introduced a bill in City Council Thursday that would offer a tax credit for families paying for high-quality child care.
To qualify, the child care program “has to be accredited by the state” through the Keystone Stars program, Johnson said. “Statistics have shown that when you send a child to a high-quality day care center, it sets them up for success in life,” improving grades and reducing behavioral problems once they get to school, he said.
Johnson's bill would provide a “dollar for dollar” cut in the city wage tax for every dollar spent on qualified care, Johnson said. A family making $27,000 could save as much as $700 in city wage taxes, he estimated.
“That’s money in their pockets,” Johnson said.
Anthony Hopkins, a spokesman for the advocacy organization, Public Citizens for Children and Youth, called Johnson's bill a good start towards solving a vexing problem.
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"Right now in Philadelphia, we found that nearly seven out of ten children do not have access to high-quality pre-k,” Hopkins said. “So it's important that we do everything we can to open up access to programs that put children on track and make sure they're ready for school."
Among the benefits of Johnson’s bill, Hopkins said, is that it could raise awareness of those Keystone ratings, which rank child care centers from one to four stars.
"When families are out there looking for options … chances are they might not even be aware of the Keystone Stars program,” Hopkins said. “So, something we try to push, when we say 'high quality pre-k' or 'high quality learning,' we say look for Keystone Stars rated three or four."
Johnson’s bill would allow families to draw credits even for using facilities given a one- or two-star child care, which Hopkins said still represent a big improvement over unaccredited care. Even a one-star program must meet certain professional standards that unaccredited and informal child care often can't match, he said.
“In an ideal world we’d want all of our kids enrolled in Keystone three or four programs, but the accessibility is not there right now,” Hopkins said. “If we can start here, hopefully we build some momentum, then down the road we’re able to expand.”
Council will host hearings on Johnson's bill sometime this spring.