Blacksburg directs ARPA funding to child care workforce initiative | Local News

BLACKSBURG – The town has decided to allocate approximately $ 1.1 million to an initiative under the New River Valley Community Foundation to help grow the area’s child care workforce, the nonprofit announced last week.

CFNRV was this year one of several local organizations that proposed projects to be funded by money Blacksburg received from the federal U.S. Rescue Plan Act.

The initiative under the CFNRV is called First Steps, which is described as a network of more than 60 New River Valley organizations working to support young children and families.

The organization said in its recent announcement that child care providers, public school officials, social services and health care organizations are working together to share information on services available to children and families in the region. The organization said those different groups work to draw attention to the importance of early childhood education and to support the early education and development workforce.

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ARPA was one of several measures approved by the federal government during the pandemic aimed at providing relief to local governments, families and other entities.

CFNRV took note of the impact of the global health crisis on the early education workforce in both the New River Valley and the rest of the country, an issue that, according to the organization, got much worse as the region emerged from the pandemic.

The organization cited a recent survey of regional providers who said childcare centers operate at about one-third of their licensed capacity due to a lack of qualified teachers and support staff. That problem, the organization said, has left nearly 7,000 children ranging from babies to 6-years-old without access to care.

The organization said the issue has led to the closure of individual classrooms or the amendment of hours to meet state licensing requirements for student-teacher relationships. The organization also pointed out the exceptional challenges of recruiting new workers to the field.

“Despite the increase in starting salaries several times over the past two years, early educators earn much less than those in retail and office work,” reads a portion of the First Steps announcement. “Low pay, limited benefits and the persistent misperception that childcare providers are merely ‘babysitters’, rather than trained educators, have made recruitment and retention difficult.”

The challenge for starting salaries is one that has affected the town of Blacksburg, which recently introduced a payroll measure aimed at addressing the labor challenges that emerged during the pandemic.

“The challenges with recruiting are many,” says Judy Shelor, center director of the Blacksburg-based Valley Interfaith Child Care Center. “Some of them are wage equality, increasing educational opportunities and competing with retail businesses for workers. We are committed to providing our staff with a living wage, supporting educational opportunities and raising the professional status of early childhood education, all while providing high quality care that is affordable for the families we serve. ”

CFNRV said in its announcement that the lack of qualified educators had a “profound impact” on many employers and forced parents to leave the workforce due to either unavailable or inconsistent care. The organization cited the Virginia Promise Partnership, which he said looked at the negative financial impact of inadequate child care in areas such as family income and local tax revenue.

CFNRV said the ARPA funds under First Steps would be used to launch a program over the next four years focused on retaining early educators and building the workforce pipeline. The key program components, the organization said, will include grants to educators based on their length of service and credentials and scholarships and job placement services for high school and college students pursuing careers in early education.

Those program components will also include reaching out to area employers to create public-private partnerships that keep child care accessible and affordable, CFNRV said.

The town of Blacksburg received praise for its investment in early care and education.

“The town lays the necessary foundation that will facilitate additional public and private partnerships in order to provide quality early care and education for working families in the [New River Valley]”Said Karen Gallagher, director of the Child Development Center for Learning and Research at Virginia Tech.

CFNRV said First Steps hopes to secure additional private and public funding to expand the program beyond Blacksburg in the future.

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