This week, the Iowa City Community School District made the very difficult decision to hold fall classes online. We know this decision was made with the safety of our children, teachers and staff, and entire community in mind, and now we see challenges ahead for children, parents, businesses and our local economy. Iowa ranks at the top for having all available parents working outside of the home. Johnson County has 76% of their female population in the workforce, resulting in 28% of Iowa City’s workforce relying on child care and schools for children under the age of 14.
Prior to COVID-19, 2.4 children under the age of 4 needed child care in Iowa for every spot available. This issue was compounded by the fact that Johnson County parents pay more than double the national average for child care, averaging more than $12,000 a year for children under age 4. In addition, before/after school care and summer care was also hard to find and expensive, pushing families to seek less desirable options.
In 2019, while unemployment was at an all-time low, employers, legislators, teachers, non-profits and economic development organizations came together here in Johnson County to address equity, affordability and quality in our child care system. The future looked bright and we were making progress, both locally and at the statehouse. Today, we find ourselves in a state of limbo, with schools moving online, child care providers facing challenging circumstances, case counts on the rise and no miracle vaccination on the horizon. Our economy hangs in the balance. Parents are being asked to continue juggling work, homeschooling, child care and Zoom meetings. Business leaders are struggling to find ways to support their employees and keep their business afloat. Fatigue is high, productivity is down and children are being left behind. Parents, especially single and low-income parents, will find themselves making very difficult decisions, choosing between caring for and teaching their children or financially supporting them. Employers will struggle to find the employees they need to keep their business open and our economy going.
Now is the time to come together as a community to find solutions for our children and our working parents.
Here are just a few of the tough issues we will need to address this fall:
- As employers, how can we address work/life balance in a way that allows parents the space they need to care for children?
- As educators, how do we assure that children are not left behind academically and a robust plan for online learning is introduced?
- As state legislators, how can we protect and sustain the child care industry and support our PK-12 schools?
- As congresspeople, how can we provide financial assistance for child care programs so they can remain open, and schools as they improve remote learning and adapt to new situations?
- As non-profit leaders, how do we continue to provide necessary services to children, like food, tutoring or special needs assistance?
- As community members, how can we act responsibly so we can get the COVID-19 pandemic under control and our lives back to a new “normal”?
Each one of us has a role to play in on supporting our schools and child care providers if we want our economy to bounce back. More than ever, high-quality child care and PK-12 education is at the core of life success for parents and children. Giving our community’s young people the best possible start, while providing support to working parents, will make the Iowa City area stronger in the long run!
If you would like to join us in building a transformed future of our community with greater economic diversity, growth, inclusivity, resilience and wellbeing for all, go to icareatogether.com and learn how your voice is needed.
Kate Moreland is CEO and President of the Iowa City Area Development Group.
*This article was featured as an opinion piece in the Iowa City Press-Citizen on July 16, 2020.