Grace Sanko ’23
A recent poll commissioned by a coalition of Connecticut childcare providers and advocates found high levels of support among voters for increasing state funding of early childhood care and education. While many people are aware of how expensive infant, toddler, and preschool care costs may be, the magnitude of these costs for low-income families is typically less understood. Although childcare payment is one of the biggest issues that parents face, it is easy to underestimate how big of a burden these costs can be for families.
Considering the devastating effects of the pandemic on the American economy, it must be noted that the childcare industry has not been able to “bounce back” so easily. Staff attraction and retention to the childcare field has been difficult with fewer qualified applicants and constant employee turnover; as a result of this shortage, childcare providers are unable to fully staff their classrooms. This issue has increasingly worsened to a point where many care centers and homes have had to shut down completely nationwide. Many of those who worked in childcare before the pandemic have since relocated to better paying jobs that offer higher than minimum wage rates. Coalitions and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), such as Connecticut Early Childhood Alliance, advocate for increased funding for the childcare industry from the state government to meet the high demand of families seeking care. Such organizations suggest that the ideal solution would be to increase wages without changing the childcare tuition rates for families; however, the only way to achieve this is through access to public subsidies.
The Trinity Childcare Center (TC4) aims to always keep three teachers in the classroom to maintain their student:faculty ratio of minimum two teachers per group of toddlers. By always having an extra set of hands available, TC4’s Amy Poland insists that “toddlers need more than two teachers in a classroom to receive a high quality of care. This age group and preschoolers require more supplemental staff to keep the program running smoothly.” TC4 accepts multiple tuition subsidization streams, which allows them to provide a high-quality early education alternative for families that cannot afford to pay full tuition costs. “If it wasn’t for the subsidies, not all kids would have access to high quality care.” The current cost of tuition at TC4 is $350 per week for infant and toddler care, which is $1500 per month full time. TC4 serves both Trinity staff and community families, and Trinity students can volunteer by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Student volunteers are essential to maintaining the student:faculty ratio and providing extra help to early childcare staff. Their biggest goal is to acquire a new building with one license for easier functionality, so they don’t have to run their program out of two separate buildings with different licenses.
The HarrisX survey found that the majority of polled Connecticut voters support increased state funding in early childcare education. More specifically, 57% of state voters support “capping early care and education expenses at 7% of household income.” However, the amount of income families spend on childcare is at least three times higher than 7%. For example, a family with one infant/toddler needs an annual income of at least $315,000 to cover the costs of high-quality care; Poland attributes their success in high enrollment to state-funded subsidies. TC4 currently enrolls 56% of its students using Care 4 Kids, a subsidy program allowing low-income families to pay for childcare. This is based on income requirements for parents so they can receive equal access to high quality care while maintaining employment. The research also concludes that 62% of voters surveyed supported making more people eligible for government subsidized early care and education so they can access high quality care for their children. Furthermore, the survey found that 47% of businesses reported that their employees have a hard time paying for childcare and that the lack of affordable childcare is affecting workforce productivity.
Results from the survey also indicate bipartisan support of higher wages for early educators. 75% of state voters believe that early childcare/education teachers should make the same hourly wage as public school teachers if they have the same education level—a belief that is far from reality. As previously mentioned, low levels of pay have resulted in many vacancies amongst early childcare professionals which forces providers to shut down as they struggle to fill their classrooms with teachers and kids. At TC4, they experienced a similar issue in that they had to put a hold on enrollments for infants and toddlers due to staffing issues, despite having available spots. Staff at TC4 are complementary of their included employee benefits regardless of these challenges; they noted that in addition to recent bonuses from the American Rescue Act, they have a very caring board of directors who understand the importance of supporting their staff so that they can take good care of the kids. The CT Early Childhood Alliance builds the foundation for successful learners and prepares children for the next stage of primary school. For large scale change to occur, the state government will need to increase its financial support to the childcare industry to improve teacher compensation for qualified workers.