‘Broken system’: Idaho child care providers say they need more help to cut costs
Editor’s Note: This is the second in an ongoing series of articles on the cost of child care and the lack of state support for early childhood education. The first story can be found here.
When tuition and federal support are factored into the annual costs at Giraffe Laugh Daycare in Boise, the budget margin is $ 600.
The center is non-profit, unlike most daycares in Treasure Valley, which allows them to fundraise, said executive director Lori Fascilla. Without this, the budget would be even tighter or even impossible to maintain.
The Fascilla center is one of many across Idaho with tight margins that have struggled throughout the pandemic. The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare is implementing a higher reimbursement rate through the Idaho Child Care Program in October as a step towards relief for the industry, but even program specialists within the agency say more needs to be done.
Declining enrollments and difficulties hiring and retaining workers have resulted in the closure of more than 200 centers across the state in the past year and a half, and vendors say it has only been so. Worsened by the increase in salaries of other industries in the Treasure Valley in an attempt to be competitive and fill positions. Walgreens has increased his starting salary to $ 15 an hour, and the advertised salary for a member of the Amazon warehouse team in Nampa is $ 18.20, plus a login bonus of $ 3,000.
Like any business, the highest cost for the three Giraffe Laugh centers in Boise is labor, at around $ 941,000 per year. That works out to an average wage of $ 11.70 an hour, which roughly matches the average wage of $ 11.73 for Idaho’s 2,200 educators, according to the Idaho Department of Labor. The starting salary is $ 8.54.
Income received to care for 127 children at the three centers is $ 1.19 million, at a full-time rate ranging from $ 826 to $ 1,036 per month for ages 0-5.
Federal child care subsidies still fall short of actual costs, providers say
The three centers combined receive $ 175,000 per year from the Idaho Child Care Program, a federally funded grant program to help low-income families with child care costs. Ericka Rupp, who manages the program, said it was part of the Child Care and Development Block Grant, which is broken down into varying amounts by state, tribe and territory across the United States. Idaho received $ 45 million in block grants for 2021, with $ 9 million in matching funds from the state.
Of about 1,100 providers known to the state, Rupp said that between 800 and 900 are eligible for the child care program, and others who go above and beyond to provide what are considered childcare services. High quality child care can participate in the IdahoSTARS program. Higher-quality centers that participate in programs like IdahoSTARS, where workers are required to undergo regular CPR and first aid training, pass health inspections, and complete 12 hours of job training per year, do not receive higher subsidies. in Idaho, Rupp said.
But even the subsidies are insufficient.
“The state of Idaho is doing its best, but there are other states where (state funds) will go into this fund so that everyone has access to quality care,” he said. declared Fascilla. “Even with our rates, the Idaho child care program (reimbursement) is about half of what we charge for an infant.”
This is something the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare aims to mitigate from October 1. The grant is calculated based on the market rate for counties clustered across Idaho with similar child care rates, said Aubrie Hunt, a program specialist at the Idaho Department of Health. and Well-being. While Idaho has historically calculated the subsidy based on the 65th percentile of the market rate in a region, it will rise to the 75th percentile in October, with a slightly higher amount for infant care. Hunt said this is considered best practice nationwide, and the goal is to help providers charge enough to support their business while preventing them from arbitrarily increasing their rates.
Although the state provides these matching funds for the grant, Idaho is one of four states – including New Hampshire, South Dakota, and Wyoming – to provide no public funding for pre- K.
Federal food reimbursement programs too difficult for most providers to use
In addition to school fees, many providers do not provide meals for children, but ask parents to pack food. Giraffe Laugh is one of the few that offers a daily breakfast, lunch and snack with support from the Federal Child and Adult Feeding Program, which Fascilla says is a bureaucratic heavy program that most other providers don’t want to make the effort to navigate. . The program also reimburses a child care center based on family income level, so if a child care center has fewer low-income children, the reimbursement rate is lower.
The program is also prescriptive about what foods can be selected to serve children and should be based on the United States Department of Agriculture Food Pyramid. Menus must be documented, recorded and reported to the federal government. To run the program, cooks and a member of the administrative staff are needed whose main role is to manage the associated documents.
Melissa Buck, principal of Vista Montessori School in Boise, operates her school in an older house and said the facility indoors does not easily allow for meal preparation. She looked at the meal plan just for snacks and said it was too much paperwork.
Human resources remain the key to the survival of daycares
Centers across Idaho still say wages are the biggest cost issue. Enrollment is below the capacity of the Fascilla centers and Buck School, as well as the Kids Choice daycare in Meridian, which is operated by Robin Findl. Buck said she currently has 36 children enrolled and is licensed for 52.
Especially when the centers are in competition with the surrounding school districts, it is difficult to keep the employees.
“I started looking at Boise School District salaries and budgeted backwards … and to run my own facility, if I were to match those salaries, I would charge a minimum of $ 1,200 per month per month. child, ”Buck said. “So I think that in itself explains where that gap is because we can’t really charge parents for that. “
Suppliers fought for funding from the Idaho legislature that allowed them to implement a pay raise for potential employees, but especially in Treasure Valley it didn’t make as much of a difference. by attracting new employees that they had hoped for.
“It helps retain people who have a passion for this job, but people who are looking for a job, there just isn’t anyone who wants to work in a daycare or preschool,” Findl said. “And if they do, here we’re placing ads right now and I’m looking at $ 1,000 login bonuses (in other jobs) and it’s like, ‘OK, well, I can’t do that. ‘”
The cost of living in the Boise area has also forced a Giraffe Laugh employee to return to Arizona because her rent has just gone up by hundreds of dollars.
“It used to be a career path, and now it’s an entry-level job, and I hate it,” Findl said.
Suppliers generally cannot afford to pay for employee health insurance and other benefits, which does not help retention efforts.
The system is stuck in a holding pattern, Hunt said.
“I say all the time that child care is a broken system,” Hunt said. “Child care providers cannot afford to earn less, and parents cannot afford to pay a dime more. It will therefore require external intervention to correct the system.