Pay in the Child Care Crisis
As budget deadlines loom at the end of September, some congress members are working to pass the child care stabilization act. The act would retain funds for subsidized child care, which many centers rely on to keep their doors open.
"If you're in this field you are in it for the children, and to be able to see them grow and develop." said Angela Rentschler, director at St. Martin's Early Child Learning Center.
Child care centers meets a critical need in the U.S. Parents in the workforce need daycare to nurture their kids while they head back to work.
"Because when all of us centers have enough staff we are able to serve all the kids that we can possible serve which is what we want to do," said David Gonzalez, CEO of St. Martin's Center. "Then parents can go to work and get a better life for themselves and contribute to society."
Most centers are far from fully staffed. Directors look at pay as a large barrier.
"Its been difficult because the pay is not what the women and men in the field deserve," said Melissa Novatmack, director at Mercyhurst Child Learning Center. "Its hard for them to support a family and make a living on the salaries we are able to offer."
Those salaries often start at $13-$15. Day care teachers will work two jobs, or abandon the career path for higher paying positions. Many of them certified in the field, but unable to afford operating in the industry.
"Trying to make sure that they're doing what they need to do to make sure they are ready to chase the kids around," said Rentschler. "and be their full self to provide the best care for these children-- is super difficult for some."
Many centers in Erie operate as non profits, receiving subsidies from state and federal government. With subsidies, the government will pay for a families tuition when they are approved for help. This leads to tuition rates being fixed at whatever level the government sets.
"The reimbursement rates have not kept up with the cost of inflation. as such its very hard to higher people for this meaningful work," said Gonzalez. "Being an early learning teacher can be extremely influential and make a huge difference in a child's life."
No staff leads to closed classrooms in centers, or permanently closed doors.
"[Parents] worry. Because if we have to call them and say 'I don't have staff today, I have to close a room', they have to worry about how they're going to pick their kiddo up and how they're going to leave work," said Novatmack. "In the past many places were taking excuses. I would write an excuse on a letterhead and give it to them, so they didn't lose PTO or vacation. I don't think we're at that anymore. So when I have to call, they are also getting in trouble at work."