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State commission says Tennessee could save billions by making child care more affordable

Governor Bill Lee said he wasn't ready to commit to the proposal at this time.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth said the state could save billions of dollars by making child care more affordable, but Governor Bill Lee said he wasn't ready to endorse any proposal to do so. 

In its annual State of the Child report, it said Tennessee loses $1.34 billion every year because of insufficient child care.

"It doesn’t seem like the way we’re continuing on is going to be manageable in the future," said policy analyst Kylie Graves, who wrote the report. 

It found child care in Tennessee costs more than in-state public university tuition and nearly 40,000 parents made career sacrifices due to issues with child care before the pandemic began. 

"The median family in Tennessee with two children would save around 14 and a half thousand dollars if we capped childcare at seven percent of family income," Graves said. 

But Governor Bill Lee cast doubt on the possibility on Sunday's Inside Tennessee program, saying he was not sold on the seven percent cap. 

"We’ll look at that, we’re looking at a lot of strategies looking at the best path forward, but we don’t have a strategy that specific yet," Lee said. 

Among the other statistics in the report: 

  • 60% of Tennessee children ages 3-5 are not in school, one of the highest rates in the country. 
  • The economic benefit of universal preschool in Tennessee would be $1.22 billion.
  • 48% of Tennesseans live in a child care desert, where there are at least 3 children for every available child care slot.

"There are so many benefits to childcare being accessible and affordable and high quality and those benefits are for the child and the parent but also for Tennessee taxpayers," Graves said.