In a country ravaged socially and economically by a pandemic, education perhaps best exemplifies the challenges of recovery. As a society, we are grappling with the predicament or reopening schools and keeping students, families, and educators safe. Reopening schools impacts not only access to learning for students but the ability for parents to work and the economic recovery of all-too-important industries.
This struggle is especially pronounced at the child care level, where small facilities are closing entirely, struggling to fill enrollment numbers, and facing financial insolvency in the coming months. As we plan for economic recovery and life after the pandemic, child care availability and access will be critical; yet in the wake of the disease, this sector is pummelled.
To quantify this struggle and the enormity of its impact, Curacubbby and CQEL commissioned the largest national survey of child care facilities to date in 2020. You can read the entire piece here or check out our five biggest takeaways below.
Of the 353 child care facilities surveyed, 29 percent have closed due to the pandemic. This set of closures eliminates over 6000 child care spots available in these communities. Nationally, these numbers could lead to a reduction of over 4.5 million child care slots available to families.
Those facilities that remain open are only able to fill one-third of their capacity, and close to 50 percent of non-attendees have cited COVID-19 as the reason for not enrolling.
In raw numbers, this means that enrollment has dwindled from 26,990 to 7,197 students, leaving a gap of 19,793 attendees. Of these nearly 20,000 students who have opted to stay home, at least 9,100 have directly cited COVID as the reason for the decision. At the facility level, this results in 26 students (out of the median enrollment of 60) canceling due to COVID.
The surveyed child care programs expect to see an increase in enrollment, from less than a third of total capacity to about half capacity. At the program-level, this is a 50 percent increase from a median of 20 students to a median of 30 students.
Still, even with expected growth in attendance, these programs are expecting to operate at 50 percent capacity.
The programs surveyed laid off a total of 1180 staff, which is a median of four per facility that reported layoffs. However, it’s not all bad news. A smaller percentage of facilities did, in fact, cite staffing increases, which totaled 58 across respondents, or two per facility where new hires occurred.
In about a quarter of cases, the programs increased tuition; on the other end, about a quarter of facilities also cited tuition decreases.
When we dive deeper into the rates of tuition change, we find that the average tuition increase was 11 percent, while the average decrease was about 36 percent. Across the board, the average change in tuition was just under a one-percent decrease. Moreover, tuition rates have generally fallen, though only slightly.
Yet, even with financial support, the dire effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and economic recession have left most facilities on the brink of financial insolvency. At current levels, the median response for months remaining until financial insolvency was four. If facilities were forced to close, this would fall to three months.
Besides increases in tuition or staffing changes, the majority (84 percent) of programs sought funding of some sort to manage financial challenges. For example, 78 percent of respondents sought federal funding, often from CARES or PPP, and close to 20 percent also applied for both state and local funding.
Respondents in total received $37,726,715 in monetary support across 261 facilities. The median funding received per facility was $45000.
As a result, many program leaders are considering how to weather this time and what initiatives – if any – they may undertake. While the majority of businesses surveyed plan to stay the course, 17 percent stated they intend to leave the industry, while on the other end of the spectrum, 12 percent plan to expand to increase revenue.
Moreover, owners and directors of child care facilities must now contend with the financial challenges facing them in an industry that already ran on razor-thin margins. The situation for many is impossible.