State Budget Signing Disappoints Child-Care Providers

By Emily Scott, Public News Service
for The Post

HARRISBURG PA – Although the state budget signed last week by Gov. Tom Wolf included an historic $416 million increase in public-education funding, child-care providers say the budget missed the mark in their field. Child-care line items got no state-budget increases despite being devastated by the pandemic, according to Jen DeBell, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association for the Education of Young Children.

Because child-care centers face a critical need for $1.2 billion in federal funds now available under the American Rescue Plan, DeBell hopes the state begins distributing them as soon as possible.

“We’ve seen almost 700 programs close, and more than 360 are still temporarily closed,” DeBell observed. “So we don’t want to see those numbers driven up because the money isn’t going out quick enough.”

Areas she’d like to see receive increased funding include hiring or retention bonuses to help centers build back staff lost in the pandemic. DeBell claimed the average child-care teacher in Pennsylvania makes $10.69 an hour.

Nancy Frederick, director of The Learning Center at Third Street Alliance in Northampton County, agreed her organization has been struggling to hire teachers, making it difficult to increase classroom size to meet growing demand. Government support is necessary for it to increase pay and offer teachers a living wage, she contended.

Frederick also stressed the importance of high-quality early learning. Pennsylvania child-care centers “are really getting students early on, where they can make a difference and build connections before they even go to the public school, or whatever school they go to once they are the age of five or six.”

She also hopes to see funding to expand what’s known as the Infant-Toddler Contracted Slots Program, which provides free child care for children of eligible families, up to age three.

Photo by New Africa via Adobe Stock, supplied by Public News Service and used under license