It is widely understood that child care is essential to families with young children who need to leave home to work and subsequently facilitate the reopening of our economy; however, the early care and education industry has itself been devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Across Louisiana, many providers — who were already operating on razor-thin margins prior to the pandemic — have struggled to remain open through much of 2020. Those that were forced to close are struggling to reopen with mandated decreased class sizes and increased costs for necessary PPE and cleaning supplies.
Since the pandemic began, there have been growing calls across Louisiana for public investment in the child care sector, but often absent from these conversations is any focus on benefits for the early educators themselves — the teachers and caregivers who are the heart of young Louisianans’ experiences and who our state is depending on for economic recovery.
Despite the critical role that these early educators play in the lives of young children and working Louisiana families, they are severely underpaid and undervalued. Even before the pandemic, they struggled to meet their own basic needs, such as paying for housing and medical bills.
For an already-struggling industry, the onset of the pandemic brought additional struggles for child care programs and early educators on which they rely. These educators lack the job supports that would allow them to remain safe and healthy while working as we head into flu season amid a global pandemic. In fact, nearly three-quarters of our early educators have no sick leave, and 20% are without health insurance altogether.
We are asking educators across Louisiana, many of whom are women of color and are experiencing poverty, to bear the brunt of our economic reopening without providing them with the most basic supports needed to ensure that they stay well, both physically and mentally. While parents and advocates have increasingly called on the U.S. Congress to bail out child care, any legislation being considered focuses largely on financial solvency and lacks additional support for the educators that would allow them to simultaneously stay healthy and protect the children, all while providing high quality care.
Public funding that ignores the central role that caregivers play in supporting our economy will fail Louisiana child care centers, families and children.
SARINTHA BURAS STRICKLIN
director, Jefferson Ready Start Network