Early childhood education faces steep challenges

Access, funding issues exacerbated by pandemic
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Posted at 4:43 PM, Jun 11, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-11 19:36:34-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Birdsall House in Kansas City, Missouri, was closed for two months in April and May during the pandemic, but is now open for the children it serves. This early childhood education center is sounding the alarm for their neighbors in the industry.

"This is already a daycare desert; For every 40 kids who need childcare, there’s one spot in Kansas City," Birdsall House director and CEO Kelly Raines said. "To see centers close during this time, it’ll be difficult when things settle down and people are wanting to send their kids back to have enough spots for all of the kids."

Birdsall House has been open during the pandemic, but there are concerns about the health of early childhood education as a whole here in the metro.

Experts say it's exposing inequalities in the system.

"Kids are starting behind the blocks from six weeks old to twelve weeks old to daycare. Now we feel it. We see it more up close. It’s a good time for empathy and action," Josh Best, director of Real Estate Solutions for Kansas City, said.

He adds it is an access problem along financial and racial lines, which has been exacerbated by the pandemic.

"We have a teacher pipeline issue in early childhood education," Best said. "We don’t have enough people who want to be early childhood educators."

Locally in Kansas City, funding is tight.

"Specifically in Kansas City, because voters said no to the Pre-K for KC ballot initiative a year ago now, what that means is we’re nowhere closer locally to be able to serve more children," School Readiness Consulting senior associate Annie Watson said.

Early childhood education isn't just critical for a child's development - parents need these centers, too.

"Childcare is essential infrastructure so Americans can work, so Kansas Citians and Missourians can work, not just moms," Watson said. "We have long held that childcare is a workforce support for men, it exists for men. How do we ensure that all people have the right to work when they need to work."

Early childhood education is working to find solutions during a challenging time for the industry, and the families they serve.