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EDITORIAL: Regulations caused Nevada’s childcare desert

To explain Nevada’s shortage of child care options, consider the regulations governing the profession.

A recent report by the Childcare Working Group of the Governor’s Workforce Development Board highlighted a child care “desert” in the state. That’s stressful for families, but it also impacts the economy more broadly. About two-thirds of children live in households in which both parents work. A recent survey of Nevada business owners found that nearly 50 percent believed a lack of child care was an impediment to hiring and retaining employees. Nevada’s labor shortage has many causes. This appears to be a contributing factor.

The expense of child care can also be more burdensome than college tuition, particularly when it comes to younger children. In Clark County, the average cost of center-based child care for infants and toddlers is more than $14,000. Preschool is close to $12,000.

At first glance, this might seem like a failure of the marketplace. There’s a high demand for child care, but there isn’t enough available, even though the cost is exorbitant. In fact, however, government regulations have artificially limited supply.

For instance, the report notes that child care workers have to pay between $100 and $200 in upfront costs. “The system requires an interested person to navigate multiple agencies and pay these fees using a cashier’s check,” the report noted. Plus, workers have to be licensed per site, not as individuals. The report found there is a “background check backlog of close to 10,000 applications.”

There’s more. Child care for younger children is more expensive because Nevada requires one caregiver per four children under 9 months. Between 18 months and 3 years, the ratio increases to one caregiver per eight children. The limits on in-home day care are even stricter.

Then there are the government requirements to open a child care facility. Directors must have at least 1,000 hours of experience in a child care center and an associate’s degree in early childhood education. Absent such credentials, they generally need 2,000 or 3,000 hours of experience.

Certainly, some standards and oversight are necessary for those seeking to provide this vital service. But as Ryan Bourne of the Cato Institute noted in a December paper, “Many government policies, particularly at the state level, raise the cost of providing child care, thus constraining supply into the sector — both reducing its availability and raising prices without a proportionate improvement in quality or safety.”

In particular, Mr. Bourne found, “These state-​level requirements include staff-child ratio requirements, occupational licensing requirements and zoning restrictions.” The latter makes it much more onerous for entrepreneurs to open smaller centers in their own homes.

State and local officials hoping to expand the child care market should pay heed. A promising first step toward helping parents would be to re-examine the regulatory thicket to ensure it includes only rules that are truly necessary to ensure the safety and well-being of the kids involved.

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