Fab Five Fib

Arizona doesn't put all of its women on pedestals

The median salary for teachers in child-care centers is $6.20 an hour, less than half the state's average hourly wage and one-third the wage paid to elementary school teachers.

That means that here in Arizona, child-care teachers make less than telemarketers, street vendors, animal caretakers and tire repairers.

Put that in People magazine.

This year, the Arizona Legislature has the chance to dramatically improve both the affordability and safety of child care in the state.

As the leader of the Fab Five--not to mention as the state's top executive--Governor Jane Dee Hull has the opportunity to show some true leadership on this issue. She's taken some baby steps in the right direction, but will she really come through? That remains to be seen.

The state subsidizes child care for families transitioning from welfare to work and low-income working families. Until last year, the amount of those subsidies was based on the average amount of child care charged in 1989.

Last year, at Hull's request, the Legislature upped the amount to equal the average amount of child-care costs in 1996. The end result? The subsidy rate now covers the cost of child care at 50 percent of the state's child-care centers.

The federal government says that figure should be at least 75 percent.
To her credit, Hull has recommended in her fiscal year 2000 budget that $9.3 million be allocated to bring that rate up to current child-care costs.

But observers say that measure has little chance of passing the Legislature, with its Chicken Little mindset. Hull will have to show strong leadership to get even a fraction of her proposed increase through.

And that increase alone won't be enough. Right now, low-income parents are required to pay a co-pay on child care. Some parents have to pay 18 percent of their gross monthly income in co-pays. That's too high, says Bruce Liggett. He'd like to see the figure down at 10 percent. He'd also like to see the state provide a higher subsidy rate to child-care providers who have national accreditation.

Neither of those ideas has much chance of going anywhere, which surprises me because you'd think the conservatives in the Legislature would jump at the chance to make it easier for welfare moms to work.

Along with supporting measures that will increase the affordability of child care, Hull has the golden opportunity to take the lead on a bill that would increase child-care safety. Phoenix Republican Representative Sue Gerard has introduced House Bill 2508, which would create a registry for child-care providers who care for nonrelated children from two or more families on a regular basis. The legislation would require a criminal background check and clearance by the state Child Protective Services and establish a complaint review process.

House Bill 2508 has yet to receive a hearing, and already it appears doomed. The legislation has been assigned to five committees--most bills are assigned to two, maybe three at the most--which is a sure sign that House leadership wants it dead.

We have yet to hear from Governor Hull on the subject.

I can't wait for the day that my friends from back East call to ooh and aah because they've read that Arizona leads the nation in providing quality child care. But I'm not holding my breath.

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