It’s pointless to talk about childcare without addressing stringent regulations

The end of federal emergency funding for childcare has brought the issue of childcare once again front and center — not that it ever really left. Last week, the news was full of stories urging Congress to extend federal funding before the Childcare Stabilization Grant Program ended on Saturday. The beginning of this week has come with stories bemoaning the lack of action on Congress’ part to extend that funding.

The situation is slightly different for Minnesota because, in the new budget, lawmakers dedicated over $1 billion in the next four years to childcare assistance programs. The question still remains in the local media, however, if this new spending will be enough to offset the end of federal funding.

Certainly, the lack of access to affordable high-quality childcare — an issue that has existed well prior to the pandemic — is a problem. But this kind of rhetoric on childcare which centers on government spending (and is not necessarily exclusive to news media) is damaging to effective policy making.

For one, the rhetoric presupposes that outside of government spending, no other solution to the childcare crisis exists. But, as research from American Experiment and other studies has shown, overly burdensome regulations are mainly to blame for high childcare prices. If we can loosen staff-child ratio requirements, group size limits, and caregiver qualifications requirements, chances are high that we can bring childcare prices down.

By focusing on spending, however, the rhetoric essentially precludes lawmakers from exploring more effective ways of addressing the childcare problem, as lawmakers focus instead on shaking taxpayers down for more money. Minnesota is a good example of this.

In the 2023 legislative session, our state lawmakers voted to dedicate over a billion dollars in new money to childcare assistance. No other effort was made to loosen Minnesota’s stringent childcare requirements which raise the cost of childcare here in Minnesota to some of the highest in the country.

Not only will this spending not address the childcare issue, but it has already placed higher taxes on Minnesota taxpayers, who even prior to the session were already some of the most heavily taxed US residents.

The fact is that we cannot effectively address the affordable childcare crisis without addressing one of the main factors causing high prices — regulation. Money is only a bandaid that pushes costs onto taxpayers without doing anything to lower costs. If we must talk about childcare, we must at least start with that basic logic.