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Ironwood childcare facility hopes to work with community to address childcare crisis


In September of last year, federal Covid relief funding for childcare ended.

One progressive think tank projected roughly 70,000 childcare centers nationwide would close because of it. Between Michigan and Wisconsin, more than 144,000 kids would lose childcare.

As WXPR previously reported, childcare facilities in Wisconsin were struggling with the end of the Childcare Counts program which was funded by pandemic relief money.

A couple weeks ago, the Ironwood Early Learning Academy in Michigan had an average of 40 children it was providing childcare to.

That dropped to roughly 20 after CEO and owner Chandra Moreno announced they need to raise prices to keep up with employee wages, training, and bills.

“We've lost half of our families and it's devastating because what we set out to do in our community was offer affordable childcare for these people,” said Moreno. “I’ve got to tell you that one of the top five worst days of my adult life was standing in front of these families, knowing that the news that I was about to give them was going to be devastating, and knowing that the majority of my families were no longer going to be able to afford childcare.”

Moreno opened Ironwood Early Learning Academy in response to closures and changes among existing childcare centers in the city.

With donations and support from the community, Slate Elementary School was renovated and turned into a childcare facility.

The cost and process to open a childcare facility were a challenge. One Moreno says she wouldn’t have overcome without support from the community and grants provided through the American Rescue Plan.

“There was significant help through the pandemic aid that involved childcare. What I find really disappointing is that those funds didn't necessarily rescue the childcare industry,” said Moreno. “It created an avenue for new centers to be created and maybe struggling centers to stay open for that time.”

After Ironwood Early Learning Academy raised rates, some of the families that left went to single-income households.

Others were able to get spots at another childcare facility in Ironwood.

“We were always meant to be an addition to [childcare]. I knew that they were going to be able to have spots and offer care. It was exciting to offer more. To think about one of us closing and putting our community right back into the same spot they were in a year and a half ago is a scary thought,” she said.

Moreno has been trying to encourage families and their employers to participate in the Michigan Tri-Share program.

With that program, the cost of childcare is split evenly between the state, employer, and employee.

“One of the struggles with that is convincing these companies that their bottom line will actually be positively influenced by investing that in their employees because it doesn't wash out at the end of even maybe one quarter. It's a long-term investment that you just you have invest to see what happens,” said Moreno.

Moreno is hosting what she’s calling a “Childcare Crisis Community Meeting” this Saturday.

She’s hoping the community can work together to stabilize childcare in Ironwood.

“I don't have the answers for the nation, but I feel like our small communities really banding together and being innovative and creative is the way to solve this problem community by community,” said Moreno.

The meeting is at Ironwood Early Learning Academy from 2:00 p.m.-7:00 p.m.

Katie Thoresen is WXPR's News Director/Vice President.
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