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Mark Wilson: Working to make Florida even more competitive — addressing early learning & child care crisis

Florida needs to create 1.21 million new jobs by 2030 and child care concerns are being addressed by legislative leaders in Florida.

According to Untapped Potential in FLa 2023 report by the Florida Chamber Foundation and the National Chamber Foundation, nearly $5.4 billion in economic value is lost annually in Florida due to working parents having to be away from their jobs to care for children under the age of six.

In fact, the report found that the lack of access to child care was the leading reason parents with young children left their jobs in the 12 months before the Chamber’s research.

The report revealed that Florida is missing out on $911 million annually in tax revenue due to child care challenges with affordability and accessibility. child care-related employee turnover and absenteeism costs Florida job creators $3.47 billion per year.

In fact, 64% of parents with young children missed work or school at least once in the past three months for childcare-related reasons.

Poor quality and inaccessible child care impacts more than just our current workforce. Making investments in our early learners supports the Florida Chamber’s 2030 Blueprint goals of ensuring that 100% of our children are entering kindergarten prepared, 100% are reading at grade level by third grade, and are equipped to pursue academic success.

That is why the Florida Chamber Foundation created the Florida Business Alliance for Early Learning Project which is working to raise awareness around the importance of investing early in Florida’s youngest learners.

State and federal child care programs exist to alleviate some of this burden financially, but many families are ineligible for these programs. Even those who do qualify face challenges finding available providers due to burdensome regulations that are completely unrelated to quality and safety and inadequate reimbursement rates.

Florida’s School Readiness Program offers financial assistance for child care to working parents or parents pursuing an education who are earning at or below 150% of the federal poverty line.

This means a single-parent household with one child, which earns $31,000 a year, would earn too much to qualify for the program. However, some child care providers across Florida do not accept School Readiness program students because they are often reimbursed at a rate lower than the market rate.

Sen. Alexis Calatayud and Rep. Dana Trabulsy are presenting legislation this week to assist Florida’s working parents with their struggles to afford and find available child care and redesign the School Readiness Program to support Florida’s families on a path to upward mobility.

As I’ve often said, for people who want to work, Florida should be the best place on earth.

Their proposals will be heard in the Senate Education PreK-12 Subcommittee and the House PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee this week.

SB 916 and HB 929 raise the eligibility threshold of Florida’s child care program to 55% of the State Median Income, a change that will add over 10,000 students to the program’s eligibility.

Additionally, the legislation incentivizes child care providers to serve their children and families by increasing reimbursement rates.

While this legislation requires an investment, it is essential to supporting the workforce of today and vital to developing our workforce of tomorrow. A lack of affordable, quality child care makes it difficult for parents trying to enter, re-enter, or stay in the workforce.

There are working parents who struggle to balance home, child care and work, children who miss valuable educational opportunities, child care providers who are fighting to stay open to serve their communities, and employers wondering how to attract employees with children to work.

Sen. Erin Grall and Rep. Fiona McFarland have also introduced measures to improve access to child care. SB 820 and HB 635 offer incentives for employers to assist in the child care issues their employees struggle with through targeted tax credits.

The legislation also addresses burdensome regulations placed on child care providers that have little to do with quality or safety in their facilities. Child care is increasingly a business community issue that can be improved by uniting Florida’s business leaders.

Access and availability of quality early learning opportunities for Florida’s families are essential to Florida’s competitiveness. It is imperative that we work on long-term solutions to improve this crisis. Florida’s global competitiveness depends on a unified education system that prepares our children from cradle to career. This commitment must start early. By preparing our youngest learners today, we can establish a foundation for academic and workforce success, which is essential to securing Florida’s future.


Mark Wilson is president & CEO of the Florida Chamber of Commerce.


*This opinion piece was originally published with Florida Politics.

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