As families try to return to the workplace- many are struggling to find childcare – due to the number of providers that closed during the pandemic, and staffing shortages at the centers that are still open.
Several Spokane area providers, businesses and state agencies have put together a list of policies, and potential funding sources they hope could put the industry on solid ground.
Journey Discovery Center, an early learning school in Spokane, currently has a waiting list of about 600 families. Co-owner Nicole Sohn said that wasn't unusually long, even before the pandemic.
“It is genuinely heartbreaking to hear and receive phone calls from parents who have called 20 centers in one day,” she said. “The waiting lines for most centers is incredibly enormous because there’s not enough places for children.”
Sohn and Luc Jasmin, owner of Parkview early learning Center in Spokane, are members of a statewide taskforce working on addressing systemic issues in childcare.
They say both have been able to return with most of their capacity, but many businesses have not, and some are struggling to remain viable.
According to a policy guide their group produced, 30% of families in Spokane County don’t have access to childcare.
Jasmin said the gap in childcare comes down mostly to cost – and most of the cost is staffing.
The report says most childcare workers are paid less than $15 an hour, less than half of what the average kindergarten teacher makes. They're significantly more likely to be women and people of color.
Jasmin said he’d like to pay his teachers more – but serves mostly low-income families, and children who have had adverse childhood experiences. He said most depend on subsidies with low reimbursement rates.
“Early learning is the backbone of our community,” he said. “We need to make sure that there is adequate funding so that us as providers, we’re able to compensate these teachers.”
The task force recommends finding funding to reduce childcare staff turnover – and make workers’ wages and benefits more competitive. The task force also recommends the state make it easier for childcare businesses to receive grants and loans, and for the state to expand the number of families eligible for subsidies.
Both Sohn and Jasmin are hoping for federal intervention – potentially through the infrastructure package that’s before Congress now. They said intervention, state or Federal, is needed soon.
“While it will be expensive to fund the early system,” Sohn said, “it will be much more expensive to build it if we don’t save the providers that we have.”