Children’s earliest years, birth to five years old, are the most important for brain development and affect the rest of a child’s life in educational success and health outcomes.
At the same time, parents need levels of early childhood care to attend school or be employed. Employers need workforce presently and in the future. The Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce Eggs & Issues monthly breakfast explored the challenges of childcare and the business model that currently has only 1,500 spots for full-time care for almost 5,000 children under age five.
Local child care/learning businesses as well as advocacy organizations are trying to balance these needs while bringing this topic before community and government members. The chamber provided a panel discussion of local experts about this essentials and complex issue.
Kristi Snyder is the owner of Rainbow Riders, a local childcare center serving families in the Blacksburg community for over 30 years. Currently, Rainbow Riders has approximately 450 young children enrolled in three sites.
Snyder serves on the Smart Beginnings Leadership Council. Smart Beginnings works to build early childhood systems, support providers and provide information related to kindergarten readiness.
Bethany Mott is the director of the Alliance of Better Children Strategies, a non-profit devoted to improving access, quality and affordable options for childcare and early education while supporting the childcare workforce.
After a successful career as a Radford University librarian and launch of the Radford Early Learning Center, Moss and ABCs believes access to quality childcare is essential to the economic vitality of the New River Valley.
Hugh McBride is the chief marketing officer at Rainbow Child Care Centers headquartered in Troy, Michigan. Currently, there are 136 child care centers in 15 states with Early Learning Centers on Tyler Avenue in Radford and University Boulevard in Blacksburg. McBride is pleased to be opening a second location in Blacksburg off Country Club Drive this summer.
Dawn Knight is a doctoral candidate and instructor in the Virginia Tech School of Education. She is a faculty advisor of the Association of the Education of Young Children. Knight has previous experience as a home daycare operator and then owned and operated the former Turtle Tots Preschool Center.
Jim Flowers is the executive director of VT KnowledgeWorks and provides support systems for business formation primarily at the VT Corporate Research Center. Flowers moderated the panel and audience participation to understand the impacts of early childhood education.
Knight stated the need to change the terminology away from “babysitting,” “childcare” or “daycare.”
The panel prefers the term “early childhood education.” The terminology affects the image of early children educators, which make half of what kindergarten teacher earn. This pay disparity affects the recruitment and retention of quality early or pre-K educators.
“It is difficult to hire a teacher with a degree and experience. It is also a traumatic stress event for children when a teacher leaves,” Snyder said.
According to McBride t o start, grow and sustain an early learning center, a talented and available workforce is needed. In order to have a stable workforce, the jobs must be viewed as a profession.
The panel examined the business model perspective of early childhood education. The primary costs are staff compensation, building, utilities and supplies.
“Rainbow Riders loses money in the infant room where our staff ratio must be one per three babies. Therefore, we need to fill all the other age programs to try to break-even,” Snyder said.
Mott said that families often cannot afford the true cost of early education.
A Forbes 2007 magazine article wrote that, “childcare is a rotten business plagued by razor-thin margins, high failure rates and many regulations.”
Some communities in other states, not Virginia, offer wage supplements for licensed and credentialed pre-K teachers.
The panel expressed hope that the Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, a pediatric neurologist, will give this supplement idea some consideration.
With access and affordability issues, many parents are relying on informal care system of relatives and unlicensed providers.
This situation is not an educationally enriched environment. Furthermore, this informal care cannot focus on the whole family. However, even though current early childhood education businesses try, they cannot afford to offer a family support system like a public school system can.
“Government does not move fast. Private sector can. Can businesses in Montgomery County join together to support early childhood education initiatives to reduce absenteeism, attract and retain quality employees?” McBride said.
The panel suggested business leaders to get involved with Smart Beginning and ABCs efforts for reform.
Employers were asked to assess the need of early childhood education needs among their employees. Businesses could offer seed money to start a licensed facility or tuition scholarships.
Flowers ended the Chamber’s Eggs and Issues session stating that, “this is a moral and economic imperative.”