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Indianapolis child care providers walk out to highlight low pay, 'missed opportunity' at legislature

A woman in a purple shirt with barely legible text holding a toddler speaks into a microphone while standing on grass. She is surrounded by other people in a circle behind her wearing similar shirts and holding up partly visible signs.
Sydney Dauphinais
Kelly Dawn Jones speaks at the Day Without Child Care protest, held at her in-home child care business on Indianapolis' southeast side. She said the child care workforce needs racial justice, thriving wages and affordable care for all families.

Some Indianapolis child care providers shut their doors Thursday to call attention to low wages and limited state support. The protest comes after a legislative session that saw few steps taken to address Indiana’s child care access and affordability crisis.

Kelly Dawn Jones is an organizer and child care worker. She hosted the second annual protest at her in-home child care on the southeast side of Indianapolis.

“We know that child care in this country is in a crisis. Providers, parents and child care workers can no longer shoulder this burden on our own,” Jones said. “We're subsidizing child care for our communities.”

The latest state data available, from Early Learning Indiana in 2019, shows Indiana only has the capacity to serve around 44 percent of its children at a high level of care. Indiana has an estimated 408,309 children under age 5. The data shows it serving around 180,000 children at a high level.

All seven bills in Indiana's 2023 legislative session aiming to expand access and funding to child care programs died quietly despite widespread, bipartisan support as well as pleas from industry, education, labor and welfare groups.

In the Republican-led budget, however, advocates did see some goals of those bills partly fulfilled. A prime example: the On My Way Pre-K pilot program, which provides grants to families with 4-year-olds to get high quality child care.

The budget included a provision that raised the income eligibility for the program from 127 percent of the federal overtly level to 150 percent, meaning more families can qualify for the grants.

The budget also injects an extra $5 million into the program by 2025. It’s the first increase On My Way Pre-K has gotten since a much more minor bump in 2019’s biennial budget.

READ MORE: Rural Hoosier communities rally as COVID-19 worsens child care crisis for parents, providers

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Sen. Fady Qaddoura (D-Indianapolis) said he’s grateful for the increased eligibility and funding for that program. But he and other advocates also argue it’s not enough, especially given a massive spending increase in the state's school voucher program that would allow families making up to $250,000 a year to use public dollars to send their children to private or charter schools.

“When you make a quarter million dollars, in the eyes of the state, you are too poor. So you qualify for state-funded education,” Qaddoura said. “But if your family makes a little more than $45,000, in the eyes of the state you're too rich to qualify for state funded Pre-K.”

The widened eligibility included in the budget for On My Way Pre-K falls short of proposals in bills from Democrats and Republicans which died without ever making it past committees.

Organizer and child care worker Kelly Dawn Jones said many of the bills introduced last session were little more than “a drop in the bucket.”

“There are hundreds of thousands of children every day that do not have access to child care, because we cannot hire people for poverty wages in this field,” she said. “And it is a sad situation, because we have the power to fix it, we have the power to change it. The funding exists to change it.”

A Day Without Child Care

Several Indianapolis child care providers joined a national movement to highlight the lack of quality pay for child care workers and access for low-income families by shutting their doors Thursday.

The 2023 Day Without Child Care is the second annual strike organized by national advocacy group Childcare Changemakers. Protestors and organizers are advocating for an equitable child care system based on racial and gender justice, thriving wages for child care providers, and affordable child care for all families.

The goal of a Day Without Childcare is to show the importance of this type of work. Advocates wore shirts with phrases like, “we are the workforce behind the workforce” and “we can’t go a day without child care.”

Protesters said if they got higher wages and benefits like health insurance, more workers would stay in the field. That would help the staffing shortage and improve access for families who need care.

Danielle Walker is a second-generation child care provider who spoke at the event. She announced that she will be leaving the child care field because she can no longer survive on poverty-level wages. Walker said if the state doesn’t give more support to care workers, the staffing shortage will continue to grow.

“I cannot survive by myself. So, every year, I have cried because it's not fair,” Walker said. “I can't have kids on my own, I can't keep taking care of other people. So at this point you’re losing another child care worker.”

A tax credit for employer child care

Apart from the expansion and funding increase for On My Way Pre-K, legislators quietly added echoes of another child care bill that died earlier in the session in the final state budget.

The budget provides up to $250 million in tax credits to help employers recover the cost of starting their own child care facilities for employees.

Only employers with less than 100 workers qualify. And the tax credit will cover 50 percent of the cost of creating the child care facility, up to $100,000.

This provision is similar to one of the seven child care bills that died earlier this session, Senate Bill 186.

“The average household spending on child care is about 12 percent of their annual income. And we know that we really need to use all the tools that we have in our toolbox to expand access and affordability in the child care space,” said Sam Snideman, United Way of Central Indiana’s vice president of government relations, in testimony on SB 186.

The bill went much further than the final tax credit in the passed budget. SB 186’s proposed credit did not limit eligibility for the tax credit based on the number of employees and did not cap the credit at $100,000, just a flat 50 percent.

The tax credit included in the budget only makes it available for expenditures in the 2024-25 fiscal year, whereas the original bill would have made it more permanent.

It’s not clear how many employers will take the state up on this offer, the state’s fiscal agency expects not to use up the full $250 million available.

“I can’t cut breaks anymore.” Jones, the child care worker and organizer, said. “I need the state of Indiana to step up and pay what the true cost of child care actually is.”

Adam is our labor and employment reporter. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter at @arayesIPB. Contact WFYI economic equity reporter Sydney Dauphinais at Follow on Twitter: @syddauphinais.

Adam is Indiana Public Broadcasting's labor and employment reporter. He was born and raised in southeast Michigan, where he got his first job as a sandwich artist at Subway in high school. After graduating from Western Michigan University in 2019, he joined Michigan Radio's Stateside show as a production assistant. He then became the rural and small communities reporter at KUNC in Northern Colorado.