Using public lands to fund child care? Lawmakers in Western Australia are considering this


This article was originally published on Washington State Standard.

For many families in Washington, child care is not only expensive, it’s hard to find.

Lawmakers are now looking to what may seem like an unlikely place to help solve the problem: state forests.

The Department of Natural Resources wants lawmakers to approve a bill that would allow the agency to buy land and turn the state revenue it generates into grants that would help pay for opening child care centers in communities that lack them.

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This land will be part of the new trust. Revenues will come from either cutting down trees or leaving forests intact to capture carbon dioxide – a process known as carbon sequestration.

Rep. Kristin Reeves, the bill’s sponsor, said the plan provides a way to creatively fund child care while also helping the planet.

“Our natural resources can fund our social justice needs,” Reeves said. “We can do both.”

“The benefits will be far-reaching.”

Child care sector in Washington He faces a number of difficulties. Staff turnover is high, wages tend to be low, and centers operate on thin profit margins and can struggle to stay open.

The country estimates approx 280,000 children under the age of five Need care because both parents work, but only about 28% have access to a licensed provider nearby. Meanwhile, the average annual cost in 2022 to send a toddler to daycare was about $14,000 per child care center, according to Last year’s report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Reeves’ bill has support from child welfare advocates and business groups. But lawmakers from both parties still have questions, including about how the land will be managed and where the money to support its initial purchase will come from.

Proceeds from the fund could help alleviate issues related to child care shortages and unaffordability across Washington, said Lauren Hipp, of the nonprofit MomsRising.

“The benefits would be far-reaching and enormous,” Hipp said during a public hearing on the bill.

The Seattle Metro Chamber and the Washington Business Association were also among those who testified in favor of the bill at a hearing last Friday.

If enacted, the land trust would expand on the work the Legislature did through the comprehensive Fair Start for Children Act, which passed in 2021. That law directed revenue from the state’s new capital gains tax toward expanding access to early learning and child care And increasing rates of children. Service Providers.

Reeves said the land trust proposal would help fill a gap not funded by the previous law, which helps with the cost of setting up a child care business.

The Department of Children, Youth and Families will administer the grants under a program temporarily funded by federal relief dollars that flowed during the pandemic. This program, which is currently unfunded, is scheduled to end in 2026.

Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz said using state lands to fund child care is a natural extension of the work the department is already doing.

The Department of Natural Resources manages about 3 million acres of trust lands, providing funding for K-12 schools, public universities, prisons and counties. Land includes forests, agricultural properties, real estate, etc.

“Childcare underpins every sector of our economy, making it highly relevant to natural resource management,” Franz told the Standard.

Unsettled questions

During a public hearing Friday, lawmakers on the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee had concerns about how lands subject to the proposed fund would be managed.

Rural lawmakers have demanded that the state focus only on acquiring forest lands at risk of being converted into residential or commercial properties, and that these lands remain open to timber crops.

“It’s important to me as a legislator from a very rural district that these forests remain operational,” said Rep. Joel Cretz, R-Wuconda. That’s one of the department’s goals, Franz said.

Some lawmakers also pushed for more specific definitions in the bill, such as land deemed at risk of conversion to residential or commercial use and which child care centers could receive grants.

Rep. Tom Dent, R-Moses Lake, said the bill is an interesting idea but there are a lot of generalities surrounding how it will work.

Another point of contention is where the funding to start the fund will come from.

The department wants to use $100 million from the state’s Climate Compliance Act, which generates money by requiring industrial polluters to pay for carbon emissions. This money will go to purchase some land to start the fund. Under current law, money from the climate program must go to programs that reduce the effects of climate change.

House Speaker Lori Jenkins (D-Tacoma) told reporters last week that she was unsure whether the land trust’s proposal fits that description.

Franz argues that this is the case, because purchased land can help absorb carbon.

Ryan Murphy, Franz’s vice president, also pointed to the unexpectedly large amount of money that came through the climate program. The Legislature is looking for ways to spend that money, and creating a child care fund could be an option that benefits the environment and families, Murphy said.

One development is that future CCA revenues could decrease if voters approve initiative On the November ballot that would repeal the law.

Reeves said the state could create the fund this year and seek funding later. But she said linking it to the Climate Compliance Act could ensure the program helps fight climate change.

She also acknowledged that creating a new land trust could take longer than what remains in the 60-day session. If the bill fails this year, Reeves said she hopes to continue working on the policy in the future.

“Working families can’t wait, quite frankly, for us to find out,” she said.

Washington State Standard It is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. The Washington State Standard maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Bill Lucia with questions: Follow the Washington State Standard on Facebook And Twitter.

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