Child Development Centers Welcomes State Senator Dan Laughlin and Local Officials to New Downtown Site

Erie, PA (June 1, 2022) – Head Start and Keystone STAR 4 child care provider Child Development Centers, Inc. welcomed PA State Senator Dan Laughlin (R-49), Erie County First Assistant District Attorney Jessica Reger and Nick Scott, Vice President, Scott Enterprises, today for a tour and conversation at its new Downtown location at 121 East 10th Street in Erie. The officials discussed the ongoing historic workforce shortages the early care and education sector faces that are threatening both pre-kindergarten and child care capacity in Pennsylvania. Also participating in the discussion were Rina Irwin, Chief Executive Officer at Child Development Centers, Inc.; Bruce Clash, Pennsylvania State Director, Fight Crime: Invest in Kids; and Tracy Weaver, Outreach and Communications Coordinator, Pennsylvania Association for the Education of Young Children (PennAEYC).

Rina Irwin, Chief Executive Officer of Child Development Centers, Inc., emphasized the impact that staffing shortages are having on the children the nonprofit serves across the region. “Consistent, positive interactions in the classroom are vital to a child’s healthy development and academic success. Turnover places a strain on our administrative staff as we work to promote seamless transitions to ensure that each child’s developmental and academic growth remain uninterrupted throughout this process.”

Throughout Erie County and the entire commonwealth, early learning providers are experiencing significant staffing shortages due to a lack of applicants, in part because the average child care worker makes only $10.69 per hour. A March 2022 survey of nearly 1,000 PA child care providers indicated that these low wages are not only impacting the child care teachers, but also are driving a state-wide staffing crisis. This crisis has resulted in over 32,400 children currently sitting on waiting lists for a child care slot and nearly 7,000 open child care staff positions. More than 30,000 additional children could be served if child care programs were fully staffed.

Speakers made it clear that the child care staffing crisis is very real and impacting local families’ ability to access care they need in order to work. Erie County providers responding to the survey reported 220 open staffing positions. Those 34 programs could serve 823 more children if they were fully staffed.

Nick Scott, Vice President of Scott Enterprises in Erie, said, “One thing that became clear during the COVID-19 pandemic is how crucial early care and education programs are to a family’s ability to work. A lack of child care is a barrier to our community’s economic recovery because it impacts not only working families, but also employers’ ability to hire the workforce they need.”

The panel stressed the need for direct action to boost wages for early care and education professionals. Given that Governor Wolf’s budget proposal flat funds Pennsylvania’s Child Care Services and Child Care Assistance line items for the third consecutive year, advocates are urging state policymakers to allocate $115 million in sustainable state and/or federal funds to provide a $2 per hour wage increase for teachers and staff. This would help child care providers attract new teachers and retain their current workers.

Expanding access to state-funded high-quality pre-k for more eligible children was also discussed. Erie County First Assistant District Attorney Jessica Reger noted the significant long-term research showing that young children who participate in high-quality early learning programs are less likely to be held back in school, are more likely to graduate from high school and are less likely to have problematic social and self-control behavior that can lead to later juvenile and adult crime. She described important benefits that children receive when early learning providers engage parents to help their children become eager learners. “Healthy child development and being ready to enter school put children on the path to success instead of delinquency,” she said. “Law enforcement leaders know that our best strategy to increase public safety is to expand programs like high-quality pre-k and child care.”

Governor Wolf’s proposed 2022-23 state budget includes a $60 million increase for Pre-K Counts and $10 million increase for the Head Start State Supplemental Assistance Program, which continues the tradition of expanding access to high quality pre-k. This new funding will serve approximately 2,300 additional children in these high-quality early learning programs and would provide a rate increase for providers to increase teacher compensation, bolster the early education workforce and enhance program quality.

Localized data was also provided showing that 81 percent of the 5,990 eligible children under age five in Erie County—or 4,840 children—are not served by Child Care Works (CCW), the Pennsylvania state subsidized child care program based on family income. Additionally, 2,165 children–or 48 percent of eligible children–do not have access to high-quality publicly funded pre-k in Erie County.