Despite boasting one of the nation’s first universal pre-k programs, parents in Georgia still struggle to make sense of the dollars and cents of the state’s early care.

At the end of a long day of work at a small sports-marketing firm in Atlanta, a very pregnant Micki Velmer is driving to pick up her 3-year-old son, Burke, from childcare when her car overheats and breaks down. Velmer’s husband, Jason, soon swings by to get her and then get both of them to the Frazer Center before it closes and starts charging late fees. Still, Velmer is uneasy.

In just a few short weeks, once their second child is born, the Velmers will be paying more than $2,800 a month—nearly $34,000 a year—for childcare for two children, more than the cost of the mortgage on their tidy ranch house in the suburbs. One year of care for their soon-to-be-born child, $1,450 a month, will be thousands of dollars more expensive than one year of in-state tuition at the University of Georgia. And they haven’t had 18 years to save up for it. Now, Micki Velmer thinks, is not the time for expensive car repairs.

Because high-quality, affordable infant care is so hard to find—in Atlanta, in Georgia, in the United States—the Velmers enrolled their baby before the child was even born in order to secure a spot. When Burke was born, Micki Velmer had no paid family leave whatsoever. This time around, she’ll get two weeks of paid parental leave, and she’ll extend that to 12 weeks total with other paid and unpaid time off. Jason Velmer, who works in digital marketing for a French company, will have four weeks of paid parental leave. All the while, they’ll be paying $4,350, plus a deposit for those three months, just to reserve their baby’s spot.

“Childcare is tough,” Micki Velmer said, walking heavily from the parking lot into the school. Even for those, like her and Jason, with good jobs and some savings. “I honestly don’t know how some people do it.” She does know that costs like childcare are a big reason that, after this second child is born, she and Jason are unlikely to  have any more. “We’d always said we’d have two or three, but the financial piece is so scary.”

And Georgia, compared to other states, does early care and learning pretty well.

The state pioneered one of the nation’s first universal pre-kindergarten programs in the country. In the Care Index, a data and methodology collaboration between New America and, Georgia ranked in the second quartile, 18th out of the 50 states. It scored in the top 15 on quality and availability, but fell to 31st in terms of affordability. Though quality is difficult to measure, 12 percent of centers and family homes in the state are nationally accredited for quality. The Care Index found that the average cost of full-time infant care in a childcare center or family-home center outstrips the average cost of in-state college tuition and fees, not just in Georgia, but in a total of 33 states. For a family with a single worker earning minimum wage, the average cost of childcare in a center for a child under 5 takes up more than half their income. Nanny care in Georgia, the Index found, runs $27,729 a year, more than two and a half times the average rent in the state.

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