Raleigh, N.C. — It’s no secret that child care is incredibly expensive.
According to the Census Bureau, childcare costs have shot up nearly 50 percent in North Carolina since 1985. These days, North Carolina parents are spending more on childcare than they are on rent -- and regulators say that isn't right.
"Oh, it's true," said Priscilla Lyman, a local mom of two. "Childcare was going to cost me over $400 a week for two kids. So, when you average that out, it’s $1,600 a month in tuition fees for day care.”
Lyman said she hates doing the math, because she quickly realized that day care would crush her budget.
“I don’t make $1,600 a month," she said. "So, how am I supposed to meet those needs? I can’t.”
According to data from non-partisan think tank New America, on average, North Carolina moms and dads are spending more than one-third of their income on child care. That’s more than three times the amount recommended by the Department of Health and Human Services.
“The tuition is equivalent to some college tuition, and we need to take that seriously," said Kimberly Shaw, president of A Safe Place child care enrichment center.
Shaw has run a five-star child care facility for 20 years, and she says one reason for the high cost is the curriculum these days.
“Don’t diminish that we are building brains," said Shaw. "We have a curriculum that we implement. We make sure that children have outdoor time and stimulation that covers all their learning domains. So, cognitively, this is a great place to be.”
Even so, many parents want the state and federal government to help out.
“What do they expect the parent to do? How do you make that happen? You can’t," said Lyman. "It’s not possible.”
When it comes to child care, parents aren't just frustrated with affordability, but also accessibility. Moms and dads are spending longer than a year on child care program wait lists.
"I was on that waiting list for over a year before either one of my children were considered," Lyman said.
Child policy advocates, who have been monitoring the issue of child care in North Carolina for more than a decade, said they are mobilizing an effort to create more affordable child care, but they say they need the help of parents to do it.
"Not only is this a question about affordability for families, it's a question about opportunities for children," said Matt Gross, policy director for NC Child.
To defer day care costs, Gross said parents have to be willing to speak up and demand more public investment and funding for early childhood education from lawmakers.
"They need to be hearing from all the parents in the community as to why this needs to be a priority."
Gross believes that, if parents band together and demand a change, more parents will be able to find quality child care without having to jump over hurdles.
In the meantime, experts say parents can save on child care by checking to see if they qualify for the federal government's tax refund program, sharing babysitters with neighbors and friends to split the costs and asking about workplace benefits regarding child care.