NC child care providers worry about April 2023 funding loss

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  • Ninety-two percent of child care programs used federal aid money to increase employee compensation, a @CCSAchildcare study found in December. However, they still had trouble getting new staff.

  • “We’ve been subsidizing child care on the backs of women,” said Danielle Caldwell, a Durham home-based provider. “If we keep doing it, they’re going to say we can do it.”

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Child care providers are worried about April 2023, when federal stabilization funds that they used primarily to raise teacher wages will end.

The funding from the U.S. rescue plan, which began reaching North Carolina child care programs last November, has given some relief to providers and teachers caring for children through school closings and health risks — mostly without health insurance or a living wage.

The state Department of Child Development and Early Education (DCDEE) is distributing North Carolina’s $805 million from the plan over 18 months. More than half of that funding was spent in the form of quarterly grants to more than 4,100 centers and home-based programs, according to a DCDEE dashboard.

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Ninety-two percent of applicants who signed up by December used the money to increase employee compensation, a study by the Child Care Services Association found. However, they still had trouble getting new staff.

“They’re struggling, and they know that these dollars are going to run out next April,” Marsha Basloe, CCSA’s president, said last Wednesday in a webinar detailing the study. “And that means we have to do something now to get that money for next year.”

The state Legislature is expected to wrap up its 2022 session this week, and no additional child care funds are on the horizon in the budget.

‘It helped us drown’

Child care providers said on Wednesday’s webinar that the funds kept them going but were not enough to compete with other industries that are also raising wages.

“Don’t get me wrong, I’m very grateful just for the stabilization grants,” said Cassandra Brooks, owner and director of Little Believer’s Academy, a child care program with locations in Clayton and Garner that serves about 125 children.

‘It did help promote childcare – well, it helped us drown. So thank you. But as we moved forward, the rest of the industries throughout the United States took two or three steps forward. Target went to $24 an hour. Who do you think will come and do a hard job at $24 an hour versus even $15 an hour with your stabilization allowance?”

And providers can’t raise the cost of care without more families losing access, said Elaine Zukerman, director of communications and advocacy for the NC Early Education Coalition.

“These other places that pay $15, $18, $20 an hour (can do that) because they have a product where they can raise costs to cover those higher wages,” Zukerman said. “Childcare can’t do that. So we really are now facing an unprecedented crisis.”

When the stabilization funds run out, Michele Miller-Cox said, she doesn’t know how to maintain the 17% raise she gave her staff at First Presbyterian Day School in Durham, a nonprofit program that serves about 64 children. She is working with the program’s board with the goal of maintaining a 10% increase, she said.

“It worries me,” Miller-Cox said.

Danielle Caldwell, a family care home provider in Durham, used the stabilization funds to cover fixed costs while she went back to school to earn her birth-through-kindergarten education degree and provided after-school care. She is back to providing full-time care for the youngest, but said she is “exhausted.”

“If we keep doing it for less, they’ll say we can do it for less,” Caldwell said. “… We subsidized childcare on the backs of women… If we keep doing it, they’re going to say that we can do it. So you know, we have to come to a point and say it’s just not going to work anymore.”

A need for ‘some consistency across the board’

Anna Mercer-McLean, director of the Under-Six Community School in Carrboro, used the funds to redesign the program’s salary scale for the first time in more than 15 years, provide rental bonuses and guest allowances and support teachers’ mental health.

She pointed to immediate actions that could help: a continuation of grant funds, funding for education-based wage supplements like KindersorgLOON$, and increasing rates for providers to serve children with working parents who qualify for the state’s subsidy program.

“That’s the only way I think we’re going to be able to sustain what we’re doing is if we can create some consistency across the board … with ongoing funding to support what we’re doing,” Mercer said. -McLean said.

The legislature is considering House Bill 731, which would bring back an option to “test” EDU 119, the one course required to be eligible to work in licensed child care programs. Charles Hodges, director of the NC Licensed Child Care Association, said the bill is an effort to address staffing shortages by increasing the pool of eligible child care workers. Early childhood faculty at community colleges will be responsible for creating the test.

The Senate passed the bill unanimously. It now sits in the House Rules Committee.

But more is needed to get to the larger staffing and funding issues, Hodges said.

“It’s going to be a bigger process because it’s subsidy reimbursement, pre-K reimbursement, that’s how we get people really early in the pipeline,” Hodges said in an interview with EdNC.

“It’s really going to take vision from all of us — through providers, through community colleges, through DCDEE, through the legislature, to really figure out how do we incentivize people to get into the field at an early stage? How do we get it paid or reimbursed? How do we make it as simple as possible so that we can get the numbers of teachers back into the system to support not only the workforce within childcare, but the workforce’s childcare needs?”

Some in the field worry that dropping requirements would be a step in the wrong direction.

Cyndie Osborne, co-chair of the NC ACCESS Early Childhood Faculty Association, was working as a child care licensing consultant when the opt-out option disappeared more than a decade ago. It was a step towards professionalizing the field, she said. NC ACCESS is working to infuse EDU 119 with trauma-informed strategies.

“How is somebody coming in and taking a test going to reduce the crisis that we have before us?” Osborne said in an interview with EdNC. “The crisis has nothing to do with their education. The crisis has to do with … I can go and make more money with stocking shelves, or work and pack boxes, than I can work in the field of child care.”

On last week’s webinar, Brooks cited the Sam Cooke song, “A Change is Gonna Come,” as a claim about the future of the field.

“I’m praying they can make some changes before, what, April, because if not … it won’t be the same voices you’re hearing now because people won’t be able to survive,” Brooks said. “They cannot survive.”

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the entity that would be responsible for creating the test if House Bill 731 becomes law. The early childhood faculty at community colleges would create the test.

Liz Bell

Liz Bell is the early childhood reporter for EducationNC.

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