Should PA Fund Child Care for Providers? • PA Spotlight
6 mins read

Should PA Fund Child Care for Providers? • PA Spotlight

Pennsylvania needs more child care providers. Earlier this year, Spotlight PA reported that there were “about 6,400 certified child care centers or home-based programs” in the state, down nearly 9% from before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Other states are in a similar situation. Nationally, parents are struggling to find and pay for quality child care, while providers are limited in their ability to pay competitive wages — in part because of high labor costs. The median annual salary for a child care worker in Pennsylvania is just $29,480, compared with $36,350 for a preschool teacher, according to a May 2023 report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Meanwhile, the average annual cost of preschool care in Pennsylvania is $11,346, according to a 2023 report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a youth-serving charity.

One solution gaining traction in some states is making child care more affordable for these workers so they can stay in the industry. Rhode Island has a pilot program that uses federal funds to cover tuition costs for the children of child care workers.

One worker who has benefited from the program is Marci Then. Then, a mother of two, earns $16.50 an hour as a caregiver at Little Learners Academy of Smithfield, where one of her daughters attends school. Before participating in the pilot, she spent a significant portion of her budget on child care. According to the Rhode Island Department of Human Services, the typical family in the program saves $1,134 a month.

She then credits it with helping her stretch her income and giving her more time with her family. In this interview, which has been edited for clarity and length, Then discusses the impact the program has had on her family’s well-being and why she’s a caregiver.

Spotlight PA: When you started Little Learners Academy, was the pilot already underway? Or did that come later?

Marci Then: It had only been a few months since I had been working here, and they let me know and said it would be a good opportunity. And I said, “Sure.”

Have you received any financial assistance to cover childcare costs?

Nothing.

So you paid full price for tuition. What’s the difference between then and now in your monthly budget?

It’s a blessing, honestly. Because if they didn’t implement it, I don’t think I’d be able to spend time with my family on Sundays. I’d definitely have to find another job to make up for it.

I suffer from anxiety, so I get overwhelmed easily. The thought of not being balanced and not being able to handle everything worries me. This has been an incredible opportunity. It’s a big weight off my shoulders.

You work 40 hours a week and are the primary caregiver for two people. I don’t even see how you could possibly have a second job, hypothetically. Where are the hours during the week?

I would probably look for something on the weekends. Before I started here, I was just getting by on the weekends, trying to squeeze in the time.

This is a pilot program, so it’s not permanent yet. What do you want decision-makers in your state to know about the importance of this program?

Well, obviously it’s completely life-changing. It’s going to be a place for a family that needs it. And being able to be in a childcare environment and also see how your child is treated is really nice.

And just to be clear, your daughter is not in class, right?

No. But we see each other at the playground. (Laughter.) I see her here and there.

What should policymakers in other states know about this program? We don’t have this in Pennsylvania.

No matter where you live, you will always find not only single parents, but also parents who struggle to support their family, let alone put their children through a good school.

Childcare facilities are really struggling to recruit people and then retain staff because the economy is so brutal. It costs so much to put a child in a daycare. But at the same time, people like you make a meager amount of money. Do you think that could attract more people to work in childcare?

Absolutely. And I think it’s also a relief. You come to work and you don’t have to worry about, “Hey, I have to get my kid here before he goes somewhere.”

What will the end of the program mean for you and your family?

It would probably mean no dinner at the table. It would definitely mean I would have to work weekends. So it would limit our family time. I think it would increase my anxiety because I would be all over the place.

Who will take care of your daughters while you work even more?

I’m very lucky. If there’s anything I need to do, both girls will be with my parents. Not everyone has a support system. I have a great one.

Do you think you will continue to work in childcare once your daughter starts kindergarten?

Yes, absolutely. I enjoy what I do. It’s a very rewarding job. Seeing kids grow up and actually learn what you teach them is nice.

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