• Sanders: $1.5 trillion over 10 years to provide universal child care
  • Children aged 0 to 4 would have free care, regardless of parents' income
  • The program would be funded using money raised from Sanders' wealth tax

On Monday, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., unveiled his expansive plan to ensure all American children up to age four will have access to entirely free child care. Under the plan, the services will be open to all families regardless of income.

Sanders’ campaign announced the plan on its website, where it is explained that the ambitious plan will cost approximately $1.5 trillion over 10 years. While that figure is sure to cause sticker shock, Sanders’ campaign explained that it will be paid using funds from Sanders’ proposed wealth tax.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., had previously possessed the most progressive child care policy among the Democratic presidential nominee field. Her plan differs from Sanders’, however, as it only provides free child care for Americans up to a certain income level; those making more than double the poverty line would be required to pay a partial fee.

Former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg has also announced a government child care program comparable to Warren’s.

Sanders’ plan instead aims to emulate the education system, a service that offers services to all American children regardless of their families’ income.

States would be responsible for creating their own child care systems using federal funds; the expectation is that they would expand existing programs. Sanders’ plan anticipates and accounts for the inevitable need and States will have to build new facilities.

The proposal places a strong emphasis on requiring a high level of education, ability and accountability from these programs and their staff. Providers will be required to adhere to the same standards required for federal Head Start workers, including a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field.

With these higher standards comes the need to pay these child care workers wages comparable to public school teachers, Sanders’ plan acknowledged. Although the requirement of a bachelor’s degree may seem cost prohibitive on the surface, Sanders’ free higher education proposal would effectively eliminate such a barrier.

Sanders argues that universal child care access will not only provide significant savings for many families, it will also have a number of significant long-term benefits; the proposal cites research which has shown that quality care and attention for children in the first few years of their lives ultimately results in healthy, productive adults.

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders speaking at a campaign event in Derry, New Hampshire
Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders speaking at a campaign event in Derry, New Hampshire GETTY IMAGES / JOE RAEDLE