One year into the coronavirus pandemic, and the Idaho Legislature continues to play games with resources many industries desperately need to stay afloat. Specifically, I am shocked by the lack of understanding in the Statehouse of how important the childcare industry is to our state’s economy.
Over 200 childcare providers in Idaho have closed their door since September. They simply could not continue to make the bottom line work when enrollment has been down since March 2020, payroll for their dedicated teachers is due every month, and the basic expenses — like rent, utilities and learning materials — remain fixed.
When we cannot raise costs to parents who already struggle to pay and we cannot pay our teachers any less, we wonder each month how to keep our doors open. Who is going to provide childcare?
Childcare providers are the foundation of our economic recovery. To get parents back to work, we must ensure childcare providers can keep their doors open. Nearly half of Idahoans live in areas where childcare providers are already scarce and this lack of availability is most pervasive in rural communities. We cannot afford to lose even one more provider. Whether you’re taking your child to a childcare center or an in-home provider, every working parent needs quality, affordable and safe care for their child while they earn a paycheck.
There are hundreds of businesses and organizations that received federal coronavirus relief dollars over the course of this past year, and for many of us that have benefited, it has been the difference between providing consistent care to children and closing up shop for good. If providers continue to close their doors, waitlists stack up at remaining childcare centers. However, our centers are unable to welcome new families into our care when we have to compete to hold on to good teachers and staff. Especially when those who are the most qualified look to places like big box stores for a better wage. Who can blame them?
Our state’s childcare industry cannot be left behind. Our industry was already fragile before the pandemic, and even more so now. If it collapses, then so will our economy. We need to support childcare providers’ ability to hire teachers at a competitive wage without passing the buck on to families who are already struggling to make ends meet. We need to support providers’ ability to cover fixed costs that are critical to their service delivery. We need to value the critical role early educators play in our youngest learners’ lives and that of their family.
Join me and urge the Idaho Legislature and Gov. Brad Little to pass a child care budget bill that takes full advantage of the federal coronavirus relief dollars coming to Idaho. Urge them to stand up for providers and Idaho children to ensure we keep our doors open now and into the future.
Because if we don’t, there will be no one left to care for our children when you go back to work.
Lori Fascilla has been the executive director of Giraffe Laugh Learning Centers for 30 years, ensuring school readiness, empowering families and building strong futures.