National Association for the Education of Young Children's (NAEYC) Week of the Young Child
April 16, 2020
This week is the National Association for the Education of Young Children’s (NAEYC) Week of the Young Child. It is a week that celebrates our youngest members of society, but also brings attention to the early childhood programs and services that meet those needs. In New Glarus, those services are our children’s library programs, group and family child care centers, school programs, and other informal community programs.
Two of our community child care programs, Corrine’s Little Explorers (Corrine Hendrickson) and The Growing Tree (Brooke Skidmore), had arranged for Village Trustees, Green County Workforce Development, State Assembly Pope’s office and State Senator Erpenbach’s office to come and visit their programs this week. These visits are now on hold along with arrangements that were pending until the COVID-19 pandemic threat has subsided.
Ms. Hendrickson and Ms. Skidmore were going to talk with elected officials about the need for investment in our child care centers, both in the community and throughout the state, for a variety of reasons including: economically, Wisconsin already loses $3 billion a year due to lack of high quality child care. According to the Wisconsin Economic Developmental Association (WEDA) fall 2017 conference, the number one barrier to employee recruitment/retention was lack of available workers at 21%, #2 was lack of available child care at 16%. 80% of our state is considered a child care desert and this impacts our rural areas the most. The Return on Investment is $13 for every $1 spent in the first five years. Some of the returns come from higher tax revenue because more people are working, lower penal system costs, lower special education and intervention services in K-12 programs, higher incomes, and lower health care costs. Hendrickson and Skidmore feel that the most important reason to invest, “is the impact a high quality early childhood has on a person’s ability to contribute to society and live happy productive lives.”
The current crisis of COVID-19 has placed the early childcare programs in a state of survival mode, and sadly, without intervention of support, many will not be able to reopen. Prior to the current pandemic, childcare programs were still recovering from the recession of 2007. Many people lost their jobs, birth rates declined significantly, and many were unable to afford the costs of regulated childcare programs. Consequently, childcare businesses went bankrupt. This caused 68% of family childcare and 9% of group centers to close since 2010. Turnover rates of employees at group centers is 36% annually. The average hourly wage for a group center employee is $10.18 and less then minimum wage for family centers. This pay structure does not provide a livable wage, leaving many of the teachers on assistance programs themselves. The early childcare workforce experiences these wage detriments including lack of benefits, yet over half of childcare workers have an Associate’s Degree or higher. Additionally, the cost margins of running an early childcare program leave the rate of tuition extremely high. Wisconsin’s average cost of childcare for parents exceeds that of in-state college tuition. Parents are already paying 18.5% of the state’s medium income to have each child in regulated care. 7% is considered affordable by most economic standards. Programs cannot charge families more.
Skidmore states, “When we combine all of these factors, we have a low status and poor field of professionals, an education system that facilitates inequality, as only higher income families can afford quality early care and education. Children of lower income families are starting kindergarten already at a disadvantage behind their higher income peers. This disadvantage is shown to persist for many years, with effects lasting into adulthood for some.”
Now with the uncertainty of the COVID-19, the early childhood programs are facing an even more detrimental future. According to a survey the National Association for the Education of Young Children that was done mid-March 2020, respondents from Wisconsin family and group child care programs responded and 20% say they wouldn’t financially survive a closure of two weeks without support to cover fixed costs, 38% do not know long they would be able to close and reopen without support, 38% have parents that cannot pay, 46% have lost income because of a families’ inability to pay.
Hendrickson wonders, “How many more programs will close and what effect will that have on our other businesses throughout the state? How much will costs rise to compensate for the loss of revenue?”
Skidmore adds, “If our state lost $3 billion in 2018 due to lack of early childcare what will happen in 2020? It is also worth noting at this time, that the most critical years of education for a child are birth to five years. It is also worth mentioning that most industrialized countries provide a form of free public education birth-18 years.”