State Rep. Mike Driscoll and the Pennsylvania House Democratic Policy Committee last week hosted a roundtable discussion on PreK reimbursement rates and early childhood education at SPIN Community and Fitness, 10980 Norcom Road.
The discussion that took place in front of a packed room discussed the lack of funding for early childhood programs and the low pay for early childhood caregivers.
“We want to spotlight and highlight the issues and craft a tangible, doable plan to make sure we address this issue,” Driscoll said.
The discussion was also attended by Reps. Mike Sturla, Joe Ciresi, Kevin Boyle, Thomas Caltagirone and Mark Longietti and Christopher Wakely, executive director of the House Education Committee. Councilwoman Kendra Brooks was in the audience.
Testimony was provided by a panel of experts in the field, including Kathy McHale, president and CEO of SPIN. She said the current state of funding in childhood care is in a silent crisis.
“A crisis where we have failed to invest in the quality of care, and the gap in quality is widening every day,” she said. Many children are not in high quality care, and those who are are not covered by the $8,750 that is funded by PA PreK Counts Direct.
Donna Cooper, executive director of Public Citizens for Children and Youth, highlighted the $36 million cut to child care assistance and services from fiscal year 2018 to 2019.
“You want to know why we’re in a crisis in terms of how much we’re paying childcare workers, in part it was due to the fact there was a desire to get a budget deal rather than to get a budget that works for Pennsylvania,” she said. “That can’t happen again.”
There are an estimated 348,000 who participate in childcare in the state, said Tracey Campanini, deputy secretary of the Pennsylvania Office of Child Development and Early Learning.
About 25,300 children participate in the PA PreK Counts Director program, which is funded at a uniform cost of $8,750 per child in a full-day program. At SPIN specifically, the rate needed for 2020-2021 would be $11,225 per child, meaning SPIN would need a 28% increase in funding in order to pay TAs $15/hour and teachers $40,000.
Mandy Malis, president and CEO of Federation Early Learning Services, focused her testimony on the staffing crisis that has been caused by a lack of public funding, which results in childcare workers not receiving decent wages. She recalled asking a committee member if they could today pay their bills with what they were earning 12 years ago, which is how long there had not been an increase in the reimbursement rate for children in subsidized care.
“I ask that same question today, because the increase we’ve gotten is irrelevant. It doesn’t make a dent,” she said.
Tyrone Scott, director of government and external affairs at First Up, recounted a story about a childcare center in Phoenixville being told on Oct. 24 that Oct. 25 would be the last day the center would be in operation. An increase in rent, buying basic materials such as books, paper and crayons and paying workers $14 per hour put the center so far in the red it couldn’t operate one more day, Scott said.
“I’m ashamed as a taxpayer to put my money to a system that doesn’t respect the teachers that work with our kids,” he said.
After the testimonies, elected officials asked the panelists questions about how best to invest in the program and quality care.