PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) – Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, about one-quarter of all child care centers in Montgomery County have closed their doors for good, part of a statewide trend.
On Wednesday, owners of child care centers met with Pennsylvania lawmakers to talk about their struggle to retain employees, and what they need to help keep their doors open.
Children First Early Childhood Education Policy Director Mai Miksic said child care centers have always run on a razor-thin margin, but in the current job market, they are struggling to hang on to their employees.
“On average, they are getting paid a little under $ 11 an hour, and that is just too low when you think about what Target’s offering, what Wawa is offering,” said Miksic.
“We cannot compete with other industries at all. We can’t offer the wages and the benefits, ”said Courtney Kimmel, who owns Li’l Tykes Child and Learning Center in Springfield, Delaware County.
“So many of us at this point are throwing up our hands, throwing the towels in. We’re saying, ‘You know what? We love it. But we can’t do it, because we don’t know how anymore. ‘
She said before the pandemic, she’d have about 40 children on a waiting list. But now she said the waiting list extends to around 200 names.
“We have a capacity of 132 children. We only have 55. We have five classrooms closed, because we can’t keep staffing, ”said Kym Ramsey, the owner of The Willow School in Norristown.
“We still are having long wait lists of children waiting to get into child care programs. That means parents who can’t go to work, and a staffing crisis that has continued to cripple the economy. “
Pennsylvania state House Appropriations Minority Chair Rep. Matt Bradford, D-Norristown, said government funding of child care shouldn’t be thought of, as he puts it, “Democrats talking about usual Democratic things.”
“The reality is, when our child care system breaks down, when it is stretched to the limit which it currently is here in this commonwealth and frankly across this country, it is the business community that is unable to attract and retain the best of our employees, “Bradford added.
“This is not just doing right by the kids … it should have always been our number one reason for doing it. But we need to do it because our business community needs workers more than ever, and they need child care. “
Calling it a failing business model, Montgomery County Commissioner Val Arkoosh points out child care providers are teachers, not simply glorified babysitters, and often require advanced degrees.