The Louisiana Policy Institute for Children recently announced the results of a survey of early childhood education providers outlining a slightly improved outlook for services that have been heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Survey data taken from September to October 2021 indicated that while some gains point to a light at the end of a long tunnel, the sector still needs additional long-term support.
A year and a half into the pandemic, COVID-19 related closures continue to impact child care providers.
A third of providers said they had to close entire classrooms or the entire center in 2021. On average, providers had to close classrooms at least three times in 2021 or the entire center nearly two time.
“We will continue to face closures as we now face the Omicron variant,” said Tessa Holloway of the Kidz Karousel Early Learning Center. “As I speak to you this morning, I closed two classrooms today; so help is going to be needed.
Elizabeth Andry of the Southside Child Development Center said the type of help providers will need to move forward has changed since the start of the pandemic, as evidenced by recent survey data. According to the data, suppliers are still facing operational challenges, but the challenges have changed to include 64% of suppliers facing employee absences, 55% trying to hire additional staff and 51% facing increased staffing. personnel costs.
The challenge of finding cleaning supplies has eased somewhat, with only 46% of providers reporting difficulty obtaining supplies.
“Things are not back to normal yet,” Andry said.
The financial strain appears to be easing for early childhood care providers, said Antoinette Heard of the Children’s Coalition of Northeast Louisiana. Financial losses fell from 76% in January 2021 to 58% in the fall.
Additionally, fewer providers said families had fallen behind on tuition, with 60% reporting late payments in January 2021 compared to 43% in the fall.
The LPIC data suggests that rebounding enrollment rates and relief grants likely helped improve the financial situation, said Karen Powell, assistant deputy superintendent of the Louisiana Department of Education. “Over 90% of providers have received COVID-19 related grants from the Louisiana Department of Education.”
Many have used grant funds to provide salary incentives to employees.
Grant funds were also used for typical operating costs such as utilities and cleaning supplies. Almost half of the funds were used to offset family co-payments or balances for families receiving childcare assistance.
“It shows how crucial state and federal funding is,” Powell added.
Jonathan Pearce of Sugar n Spice Preschools said the data also points to the reality that the increase in pay workers have grown accustomed to may not be permanent. More than half of claimants reported paying a higher average wage in fall 2021 than at the start of the pandemic in 2020.
Bonuses and paid vacations for full-time and part-time employees have also increased from 2020 to 2021. “In order to grow and sustain this, additional funding is needed,” he said.
Libbie Sonnier, Executive Director of LPIC, recommended the following action steps to ensure a healthy and sustainable early childhood sector for Louisiana: Continue to use federal stimulus funds and COVID-19 relief funds to stabilize the sector, supporting quality providers with growing enrollment capacity, and increasing state investments in early care and education.