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Day care in Pennsylvania rivals college for expense

| Saturday, April 12, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
Dan Richey makes the daily pickup of his daughter Sarah from daycare in Lawrenceville on Friday April 11, 2014.

Time is on the side of parents saving for their child's college education — but when it comes to saving for day care, not so much.

A national survey by student loan servicer Sallie Mae estimated that average prospective parents plan to save $38,953 in the 18 years before their child enters college.

Four years of day care in Pennsylvania costs an average of $39,558.

The annual cost of day care for an infant exceeds the average cost of in-state tuition and fees at public colleges in 31 states, including Pennsylvania, a 2013 report by national resource and referral group Child Care Aware America found.

According to the report, Pennsylvania parents should expect to pay annual day care costs of $10,319 for an infant, $8,601 for a 4-year-old child and $5,520 for a school-age child.

Liz Richey, 30, of Lawrenceville chose the Catholic Youth Association's day care at the Stephen Foster Community Center when she went back for her Ph.D. The facility, just minutes from her home, has dedicated teachers who celebrated her daughter's first birthday and kiss her goodbye every day.

“We knew we wanted a center, a provider with oversight,” she said. “A lot of it came from the not-very-scientific process of meeting with people, how they talked about the kids and what they do.”

Child care is a huge part of her monthly budget, she said.

“Day care only costs a little bit more per day than what it takes to park your car Downtown,” Richey said. “Obviously, my child matters a lot more to me than my car.”

Staying home never made financial sense for civil engineer Adele Beaves, 38, of Mt. Lebanon. She gets a multi-child discount for her three kids.

“The price definitely surprised me a little bit, but it's not something you complain about,” she said.

Johnny Shakes of McKeesport estimated full-time day care would cost $1,400 a month for his young son and $500 for his 7-year-old. It was easier to stay home with them than absorb those costs as a family, he said.

“There's a misconception that if you're a stay-at-home parent, it's because the other partner is making an above-average salary,” said Kristin Garness of Forest Hills.

A report out this month by the Pew Research Center found nearly 30 percent of moms stay home to avoid child care costs, up from 23 percent in 1999. Only 5 percent had at least a master's degree and family income exceeding $75,000.

Mary Morgan, 34, of the South Side said she pays just $31 a week with a government subsidy for her three youngest kids, 2-year-old twin girls and 4-year-old daughter. A veteran of the child care industry, she credits increased professional development and credentialing for exhorbitant day care fees.

Gretchen Fay, Stephen Foster's executive director, said the facility tried to choose a rate feasible for the neighborhood and on par with trends in the area and nationally while maintaining the few full-time staffers they can.

“We know we have some wealthier families coming into (Lawrenceville) now — some places are charging $220 to $232 a week — but we wanted to keep costs down,” said child care director Tracy O'Connell. With diapers, Stephen Foster charges $209, far lower than many facilities in the Pittsburgh area.

Regionally, prices range from $6,240 to $52,000 annually depending on a center's location and the amenities they offer. Suburban and religious centers tend to be cheaper, while in Oakland prices soar. Like their collegiate counterparts, many day care facilities keep running wait lists in case existing customers go elsewhere.

“The expense — we knew it was coming — but it hits you a lot harder when you're actually paying it,” said Steve Lawrence, 34, of Forest Hills. “The cost never factored into having our first child, but now that we're considering a second, it's huge.”

Megan Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach her at 412-388-5815 or mharris@tribweb.com.

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