Research on subsidized day care draws national attention


Paul Atkinson

Chris Herbst spent countless hours tracking down, reading and analyzing thousands of pages of government documents as part of his research on a World War II program that provided quality, low-cost day care to parents.

An associate professor in Arizona State University's School of Public Affairs, a part of the College of Public Service and Community Solutions, Herbst had spent much of the last decade examining what works and what doesn't when it comes to subsidized day care and other welfare programs designed to help people in need.

Little did Herbst realize that his research would draw the attention of the President of the United States.

In his State of the Union speech, and at events since then, President Obama has cited the World War II program that Herbst has researched as he proposes expanding child care subsidies and a new tax cut of up to $3,000 per child each year.

Herbst told NPR that the program started during the Depression and was designed to employ out-of-work teachers and offer help to parents looking for work.

At the cost of 50 cents a day, the day care program proved essential as women filled jobs while men fought in the war.

Herbst explained that it was "a source of fiscal stimulus. "He noted that Congress later approved a similar program, but that President Nixon vetoed it.

"Some critics of the program actually called this child care bill an entry into the Sovietization of America's children," he says.

The president's proposal calls for doubling the amount of money spent on subsidized child care, which would cost about $80 billion dollars over the next 10 years. His call would boost the annual per-child income tax credit from $1,000 to $3,000 per year.

Herbst told NPR the current child care subsidy system isn't very effective.

"The problem is that the quality rendered in the U.S. child care market is low to mediocre, on average," he says.

In fact, his research finds that children in federally subsidized day care don't fare well on cognitive and behavioral tests.

Read or listen to the NPR story.