Montgomery, Ala. — On a media call organized by the Alabama Institute of Social Justice and the Raising Child Care Fund, Alabama child care center directors and owners spoke out about the state’s failure to effectively roll out funding from the recently expired American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) or implement programs to fix the broken system. The ARPA funding, which expired in September, was intended to stabilize the child care sector by supplementing care rates, but instead increased taxes to Alabama center owners and put many in a further deficit. While other states provided the funding in the form of grants, Alabama center owners received it as payroll creating a tax burden.
“Now that the money has gone, we feel that it could have been given out in a different manner so it would have lasted a lot longer,” said Constance Dial, PhD, who runs a center in Mobile, Ala. “Now we are back to where we were prior to the pandemic, and we were already working with an old system that needed to be dismantled and rebuilt.”
Providers expressed they are not able to pay enough to retain staff or recruit new teachers, and many are leaving the field.
“We still don’t have enough finances to increase salaries, so we’re fighting Starbucks, WalMart, and all these entities that we shouldn’t have to fight because we should be at an equal hourly rate,” continued Dial. “I’m looking for teachers. I’m down two teachers.”
“Every day we’re struggling. I’ve been doing this for 22 years and struggling for 22 years. Providers are worn out and ready to give up.”
Providers say the Department of Human Resources is controlling the narrative and painting a picture that it is doing all it can, while ignoring solutions brought forth by those actually providing care.
“What they are not telling you is, for me, they’re only paying $128 a week,” said Kishia Saffold, MBA, owner of Kiddie Care Learning Center Enterprise. “We see the numbers in the news and in the media about the exorbitant cost of child care all over the country, and at $128 we’re still having to require our parents to pay the difference between what the state pays and our rate. They’re not paying rates that are in line with our industry or with the rates of food cost.”
One solution providers agree on is that the state’s market rate survey, which was intended to determine child care rates based on location. Providers say the DHR publicly promised to form a committee to revisit the survey, and instead reinstituted it.
“We know the market rate survey is a failed tool. It does not get to the true cost of child care, and it creates a schism in the system as to who gets certain rates,” said Lenice Emanuel, Executive Director of the Alabama Institute for Social Justice. “Most providers don’t even fill it out because it doesn’t serve any purpose to advance the economic status of an organization.”
“Sometimes we are hogtied because the system is broken. It is splintered because one area is trying to move forward, and another is not even thinking about it,” said provider Lisa Nimmer in Greenville, Ala. “We need to value each and every child. This is the time to focus on [ages] 0-5. This is where we need to put our resources, not in higher ed. We need to focus on 0-5.”
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