The pandemic put a spotlight on the importance of early childhood education and care to the broader economy. Now, Delaware’s child care industry is getting some help to do that work.
The state will put $120 million in funding from the federal American Rescue Plan Act toward the industry, Gov. John Carney announced on Monday. The state will make an additional $24 million available to child care providers in Delaware through stabilization grants designed to help them keep their doors open. That’s in addition to $66 million in grant money that has already been distributed to centers in the state. Another $10.6 million will be provided to child care workers directly.
Melony Price-Thomas, who leads A Leap of Faith Child Development Center in Wilmington, said the new funding help is important as many centers still struggle to maintain enrollment numbers even after the pandemic shutdowns have ended.
“Many of us have never gotten back to capacity and in particular in the city,” she said. “Many of us right now are no longer stable. We’re talking about stability funds. Many are no longer stable. So it was wonderful to hear that we’re ready to do something about it.”
Jamie Schneider remembers March 15, 2020 as a “pivotal day” for child care workers in Delaware.
As Carney issued his emergency order that shut down restaurants, retail stores, and hundreds of other businesses to stop the initial outbreak of COVID-19, state officials quickly learned how vital child care centers were to ensuring “essential workers” could stay on the job.
“Within moments, we were elevated to the essential workforce, along with those in health care and other industries. We became frontline workers,” said Schneider, owner of the Educational Enrichment Center in Wilmington.
“Child care has no virtual model. Parents who were on the front lines and keeping our economy going needed child care to continue to do their vital work,” she said. “We have shown up every day since then, ready to continue to be the workforce behind the workforce.”
Carney said the new federal support will recognize the work of those who care for and educate the youngest Delawareans.
“One of the things that we learned over the last 20 months is that there are portions of our workforce and our economy that in some ways we take for granted,” he said.
Health care workers and even grocery store employees have received recognition of the important roles they play in keeping communities running, Carney said.
“In order for all those frontline workers to go to work, there have to be people that are caring and educating their children,” he said. “That’s what this really is all about, resources to make that industry stronger and to keep it strong, resources to attract new workers to our early education system, resources to keep all of that moving so the rest of the economy can move and be successful.”
“We are a workforce primarily of women, primarily of Black, Indigenous women of color, many of whom like myself are single mothers, many of whom rely on government subsidy programs because they make just over the minimum wage,” said Schneider, who is also executive director of the Delaware Association for the Education of Young Children.
“There are rarely benefits, there is rarely paid time off, and it is a highly skilled … professional workforce that is responsible for creating the social and emotional educational foundation that children need,” she said.
In an effort to create more workers to care for Delaware’s kids, $10.6 million in federal money will help fund the new Early Childhood Innovation Center at Delaware State University in Dover. With additional money from the state Department of Education and the Department of Health and Social Services, the new center will receive a total of $30 million over the next five years.
As part of a partnership that’s still being worked out, the center at DSU would create a pathway for Delawareans looking for a career in the childcare industry. It would also provide scholarship opportunities for people already working in childcare to get extra training.
DSU president Tony Allen said the center would work cooperatively with other schools in the state.
“Whether you’re at Del. Tech, University of Delaware, Wilmington University, or any other institution in the state, we’re in this together,” he said. “We are proud that we are housing the early innovation center here, but we are in this together.”
The child care funding is just the latest in a series of announcements Carney has made this fall to dole out the state’s portion of funding from the American Rescue Plan Act.
In October, $26.4 million went to support a $200 million affordable housing in Wilmington’s Riverside neighborhood. The federal money will help speed up the project which calls for razing a large section of rundown, 70-year-old homes and building 600 modern ones. Another $50 million will help improve the state’s jobs training program and help prepare workers looking for a new career and students coming into the job market.
An effort to expand wired broadband access throughout the state is getting $110 million. That funding is particularly aimed at connecting residents in the more rural southern part of the state.
Another $50 million will go towards the construction of a new Hospital for the Chronically Ill in Smyrna.
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