PLATTE CITY, Mo. — Teachers at Willow Woods Learning Center in Platte City, Missouri, got pay raises during the COIVD-19 pandemic thanks to money set aside in the American Rescue Plan Act to stabilize early childhood education centers.
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“We surprised them, they didn’t know they were getting it,” said Leslie Bales, the director at Willow Woods.
The federal government stopped sending funds to child care programs September 30. This month President Joe Biden proposed setting aside an additional$16 billion for child care facilities nationwide. The proposal calls for sending $138 million to Kansas and $321 million to Missouri. The states would filter the money to providers who could use the money to increase teacher salaries, pay rent, buy food, or subsidize tuition for low-income families.
“Our childcare industry is on a cascading decline,” said Paula Neth, President and CEO of The Family Conservancy. “It was at a breaking point before the pandemic. But I think the pandemic really highlighted how fragile the system is.”
The Family Conservancy, a Kansas City, Kansas-based nonprofit, serves child care providers and families in nine counties surrounding the metropolitan area. Neth supports Biden’s proposal to keep funds flowing to child care providers to stabilize the industry.
The nonprofit created a dashboard to track data like the price of child care and the number of available slots in the metropolitan area. It shows the region lost 13 percent of its supply after the summer.
The data shows most early childhood education teachers earn $13.55 per hour and usually do not receive benefits like healthcare from their employers.
Neth says margins are so thin in the child care industry, but if providers raise rates, many families wouldn’t be able to afford it. She said many new families are facing high interest rates for housing or increasing rent prices and have college debt. All of those expenses add burdens to their budgets.
“We already knew we had child care deserts across the community. Well they’re getting a lot drier,” Neth said.
Congress will have to approve Biden’s proposal before the money gets to day cares.
Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri said he believes there are other ways to help families.
“The better thing to do would be to give working families a massive tax credit,” said Hawley. “If you’re working and you’ve got kids, then you ought to get a tax cut to help you with your kids. That’s my view.”
Bales believes a public investment in child care benefits everyone.
“People depend on good quality childcare for their kids and you want the best for your children, every parent does,” Bales said.