EMPORIA – Emporia State University will close its early childhood education center after the next school year, making it one of the only state universities without any type of child care children on campus.
This closure comes amid a national child care crisis. In Lyon County, there are between 21 and 30 children per daycare opening as of 2021, according to Child Care Aware of Kansas.
“I think most people, especially parents of young children, can relate that one of the hardest things to do is to do your job and go to your job and do all the activities that those kids have to do while doing a good job at work,” said Erika Martin, associate professor of aquatic ecology and teaching biology at ESU. “There are people who can have someone at home with their child, and that’s wonderful. Most of us have one or more working parents, so having someone at home is just not an option.
Wichita State University, University of Kansas, Kansas State University, and Fort Hays State all have existing programs. Pittsburg State University has a program for preschool students ages 3 to 5 with limited hours.
“I think that says a lot about what other institutions are offering [child care], and ESU is not going to look into that,” Martin said. “It’s embarrassing for them.”
Following the announcement of the closure in May, ESU students, faculty, staff and alumni created a petition to keep the Early Childhood Education Center on campus and prevent the demolition of the Butcher Education Center, where the Early Childhood Education Center is located. It also houses the Sociology, Anthropology, and Crime and Delinquency Studies programs.
The Early Years Center “performs a vital function in enabling student caregivers to remain enrolled and teachers and caregivers to do and keep their jobs,” the petition states. “To that end, we are appalled that the university is making this decision in light of the community’s continuing and growing needs for childcare, as well as pressing student and employee retention and morale issues. »
The petition had 345 signatures as of July 19.
“In summary, we urge President Ken Hush and the ESU leadership team to reconsider the demolition of the Butcher Education Center building and the closure of CECE, as it goes directly against his strategic plan and its core values of 1) Excellence, 2) Respect, 3) Accountability, and 4) Service,” the petition reads.
Hush said he thinks the school’s resources could be put to better use elsewhere.
“Emporia State is focused on the university’s successful future, and part of that is making tough decisions,” Hush said in the news release announcing the closure. “As we work to develop and evolve our core academic mission and the changing needs of our students, we need to plan where to invest our resources, as well as decide where we need to pause programs or spaces.”
The ESU said it would help families find alternative childcare arrangements, but for many parents childcare is not affordable.
“You have to be able to have a job that not only pays for childcare but also pays a bit more to make the work worthwhile,” Martin said.
As the mother of a 3-year-old, Martin said, she knows and sympathizes with the people who were directly affected by news of the closure.
“If she wakes up with a fever and I have three classes to teach that day, well fuck it,” Martin said. “What do you do? Well, you can call your friends and teachers and have people cover for you and maybe some students will, or just cancel classes. But it’s hard and there’s no There’s not much help for parents to deal with this stuff.
While it is beneficial to ask the family to care for a child, for many it is simply not feasible. Martin’s family, for example, is 13 hours away. In a college town, many students, staff, and professors don’t have the ability to ask their families for help.
For more than a decade, child care centers have been closing across the United States. COVID-19 has only exacerbated the problem, causing more closures due to understaffing. This does not change the needs of more than 12 million households across the country who have children under the age of 6.
In June, a month after the announcement of ESU’s closure, Governor Laura Kelly visited Emporia for the grand opening of the Jones Early Childhood Development Center, a new addition to the Emporia Public School District. It was built about three kilometers from the ESU.
Emporia Public Schools describes the new facility as “designed to meet the needs of young children in the district through play-based learning to develop social skills, coordination and learner empowerment. The facility will have expanded classrooms and learning environments, student support spaces and indoor activity areas Outdoor play areas will include age-appropriate areas for play and exploration.
During her visit, Kelly also stopped by a local aged care facility.
“We strive to ensure that Kansans of all ages have the support and resources they need to lead happy and full lives,” Kelly said. “The early childhood development center and aged care facility I visited today is proof that communities like Emporia are making progress in how they care for Kansans at all stages. of life.”