Childcares all across the state are opening a little later on Tuesday so families and supporters can push for better pay for daycare workers at multiple rallies and they hope the rallies will get the attention of lawmakers.
The rallies are in several cities and towns including Bridgeport, Danbury, New Britain, New Haven, New London, Stamford, Stratford and Waterbury.
There are multiple issues at play here including how much it costs for childcare. The cost of childcare is expensive and parents can't afford to pay much more. Parents are already shelling out an average of $20,000 a year for toddler and infant care, according to Merrill Gay, of the CT Early Childhood Alliance.
That coupled with the fact that the employees need to be paid more to retain more qualified workers. At this time, employees are making minimum wage and are leaving for higher paying jobs, Gay said.
“Most of our staff work second jobs, are going to school right now,” said Gabrielle Hirth, a teacher at Plainville Early Learning Center. “A lot of teachers are leaving because they're just not making enough.”
As teachers leave, childcare centers are forced to close classrooms or have longer wait lists if they can’t fill those positions.
The Connecticut Early Childhood Alliance surveyed 127 childcare providers at the beginning of the year and found 57 percent are understaffed due to a lack of staff and 69 percent have waitlists for children.
“It's probably the worst it's been now. We have gone from about 140 staff to 120 staff at the YWCA,” said Tracey Madden-Hennessey, the executive director of the YWCA in New Britain. “We do have a waitlist. We have five classrooms that are currently closed.”
"We have programs that have three and four classrooms closed, they are not breaking even. And they don't have a way to even keep the staff they've got because people keep leaving for higher paying jobs. So they're, they're in this sort of death spiral. I had one center director told me the other day, I feel like I'm looking down a long dark tunnel, and there's no light at the other end," said Gay.
These issues are also contributing to more parents not filling open positions throughout the state because they can't find affordable childcare, Gay added.
Childcare providers and parents are rallying to get the attention of lawmakers.
“The rallies are really a cry for help from the childcare industry. And they are acutely aware of the fact that their parents can't afford to pay much more. And that we need to have the government step in and help to make sure this essential service continues to be available for families," said Gay.
There is a House bill up for debate and a public hearing is scheduled for Monday. It would establish an early childhood care and education salary enhancement grant program.
Centers like HRA in New Britain are subsidized, but haven’t received an increase in nearly seven years. It makes it impossible for them to retain staff and compete with higher paying jobs.
“It's been since 2015 that this system received an increase. And truly, it's time. We have proven over the last two years that we are a vital, equitable force for the economy of the state. And we've done that on the backs of our workers. So it's time to invest with continuity so that we're able to retain the wonderful people that we have here so that they can make a wage that can support their families in turn," said Dr. Marlo Greponne, the executive director of HRA.
Gay added, “We think that there needs to just be an emergency grant program to help providers right now to keep us from losing more childcare capacity, but the long-term answer is that we need to transform childcare from a private burden that parents bear to a public good in the same way that we look at public schools.”
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