By Marissa Christie
My daughter started Kindergarten in September. She is – to put it mildly – having the time of her life.
She loves everything. Her teacher? Hilarious! School library? Kitten books galore! Her classmates? A big bunch of “bucket fillers”! (If you’re not familiar with this metaphor, ask a teacher or student to explain it to you.)
She is fortunate to attend a great elementary school. She is equally fortunate to have graduated from a high-quality Pre-K program. We see the benefits of that experience every day.
And while she spent the past two years preparing for Kindergarten, I could go to work knowing that my daughter was in a safe and nurturing environment.
Unfortunately, that is not how things work for many Bucks County families. Access to quality, affordable early education and care has always been a problem. Today, it is worse than many of us could have predicted – and I don’t think we have even hit rock bottom yet.
Last month, the advocacy group Children First put out a report outlining COVID’s impact on Bucks County kids. In Bucks, they found that “since the start of the pandemic, child care supply… has decreased 15%.” Our community lost 46 local providers and a staggering 540 child care workers.
Across the board, our remaining sites are struggling. One major issue is the gap between what families can afford to pay versus what providers need to pay to attract and retain qualified staff. In many cases, these educators and caregivers are earning 30% less than they would be working in retail or food service.
We can and we must do better.
Some people may see this as an issue that only impacts people with young kids, but it impacts all of us. When parents can’t get to work, there is a financial impact on our entire community. When kids don’t enter Kindergarten ready to learn, there is a financial impact on our entire community.
Our families – and our entire community – rely on access to early care and education to thrive.
Like most people, I am inundated with political mailers right now. There are many important issues to consider. Child care is one of them.
There are consequences, now and in the future, when we fail to view this as a community-wide issue.
If you are not sure where your candidates stand on early education and child care, ask them, or visit childrenmatteractionfund.org.
As a parent, an employer, and someone who cares deeply about the health, wealth, and prosperity of our community, I will vote like child care matters because it really does. I hope you will do the same.
Marissa Christie is President & CEO of United Way of Bucks County.