Child Care

How Do Military and Civilian Center Costs Compare? Gao ID: HEHS-00-7 October 14, 1999

In the military's child development program, fees paid by parents fund the salaries of caregivers. Federal dollars pay for supplies, equipment, staff training, and some staff salaries. The Air Force is the only service whose centers all meet the accreditation standards of the National Association for the Education of Young Children. The hourly cost of child care is about 20 percent higher in Air Force centers than in civilian centers of comparable quality because Air Force labor costs are higher and because a higher proportion of the children are younger than three years old. Adjusting estimated costs to account for differences in age, the cost per child-hour is about seven percent higher in Air Force centers than in civilian centers. The Air Force pays its centers' caregivers an average of $11.20 per hour in salaries and benefits, $1.04 more than civilian centers pay. GAO concludes that, with adjustments for age distribution, the costs of high-quality child care in Air Force and civilian centers are not substantially different.

GAO noted that: (1) the primary objective of the military's child development program is to help military families balance the competing demands of family and military responsibilities by providing high-quality child care at affordable rates; (2) DOD's child development program is implemented in each service and provides several child care options, including center care, family child care, and before- and after-school programs; (3) to promote a high-quality child development program, DOD requires that caregiver salaries meet certain prescribed minimum levels and that caregivers across all military services complete comprehensive child development training; (4) DOD is required by law to maintain strict oversight of the health and safety standards of its child development settings through inspections; (5) funding for the program comes from parent fees as well as federal funds; (6) federal funds go toward supplies, equipment, staff training costs, and some staff salaries; (7) about $315 million in federal funds was obligated in fiscal year (FY) 1998 for DOD's child development program; (8) DOD allocated approximately 80 percent of this amount to child development centers, 10 percent to family child care, and 10 percent to school-age care; (9) GAO estimated that the cost to the Air Force of operating its U.S. child development centers was approximately $81.4 million in FY 1997, and the estimated cost per child-hour in these centers was $3.86; (10) labor costs--which include the salaries and benefits of child development center caregivers, directors, and support staff--composed 75 percent of the estimated cost, with the majority of labor costs representing the salaries and benefits of caregivers; (11) the estimated cost per child-hour varied significantly for different age groups, from $5.41 for infants, to $4.28 for toddlers, to $3.24 for preschoolers; (12) child-hour costs are higher for younger children because quality standards for young children require more caregivers per child; (13) because almost half the children that the Air Force centers serve are under the age of 3, the centers' total costs and costs per child-hour are higher than if they served a smaller proportion of children under the age of 3; (14) when adjusted for age distribution of the children, the costs of high-quality care in Air Force and civilian centers were not substantially different; and (15) the adjustment reduced the Air Force cost per child-hour from $3.86 to $3.42, which is about 7 percent higher than the cost in civilian centers.

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