Local child care centers find support from COVID relief money, but what happens when the funds run out?
Child care centers across Wisconsin rely on support from COVID-19 relief funds to continue operating, but that money is finite, leaving providers wondering what will happen when it runs out.
About a dozen toddlers gather around the base of a blue rocking chair at the A-Binoojii Daycare center in Mole Lake. Some listen attentively – others less so – to a story about farm animals.
Their classroom is filled with stacks of books and art projects. A new kitchen stove and refrigerator hum from an adjoining room.
Celine Kegley, the daycare’s director, says she could afford to purchase this new equipment because of Wisconsin’s Child Care Counts program.
“We wouldn’t have been able to do that without the funding,” she says. “There’s so many things that, without the funding, we just wouldn’t have been able to do.”
The Wisconsin Department of Children and Families’ Child Care Counts Stabilization Payment Program began in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The state allotted $351 million from the American Rescue Plan Act to the program in 2021.
Participating child care centers can use the funds to improve the quality of their programs by providing staff training or by purchasing supplies.
They can also use the money to recruit and retain staff by increasing pay. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average childcare worker earns just over $13 an hour or about $27,000 a year.
Funds from Child Care Counts should last at least through 2023. But beyond that, the future of the program is uncertain.
Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers knows this puts child care centers in a precarious position.
“The state has to come up with the cash and we do have money,” he says. “But it’s more than just money, it’s an issue of finding people to do the work. That’s a long-term thing in the state of Wisconsin. Most people are working, so we have to find ways to increase the number of people we have in the state. That’s long-term and frankly a federal issue.”
Staffing is an especially critical issue for child care centers because staff-to-child legal requirements mean the number of children a daycare center can care for depends directly on the number of adults employed.
Daycare Director Celine Kegley used part of her Child Care Counts funds to hire and train new teachers and give raises to existing staff members.
The extra funding made that possible. But what happens it runs out?
“We don’t know,” she says. “We don’t know.”