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Early childcare workforce grant applications due Tuesday

(WDBJ)
Published: Nov. 26, 2021 at 8:10 PM EST
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BLACKSBURG, Va. (WDBJ) - Childcare facilities are striving to make a comeback.

Judy Shelor with Valley Interfaith Childcare Center says staffing is their biggest hurdle, forcing them to temporarily close two of their rooms and reduce their capacity due to teacher-child ratios.

“Without the staffing, we can’t enroll more children, so we are down half of our enrollment because of staffing issues,” says Shelor. “Without those two rooms we are not able to serve 18 students, 18 families”

A stabilization grant through the American rescue plan bestowed the center with $117,000, allowing them to provide loyalty bonuses and increase starting wages by $2/hr.

“It’s a lifeline. It’s a lifeline for us to afford what we need to afford to pay our staff,” adds Shelor.

Other area providers are putting the money towards helping lower-income families.

“We can also provide support to families who need tuition support so that is one of our priorities is for families who have struggled throughout the pandemic to meet all of their expenses,” says Karen Gallagher, Director of the Virginia Tech Childhood Development Center.

Gallagher says the grant money only goes so far when there’s a shortage of workers in their field, and fewer options for families could result in poorer quality care from informal settings, or parents being forced to stay home with their children.

“It’s saved my center and many centers, and we’re appreciative but really looking at a long-term solution where we can put these grant funds into wages and salaries,” explains Gallagher.

Virginia Tech’s Early Childhood Education Initiative was formed to look at the access and affordability of care, partnering with local centers to brainstorm how to rebuild and retain their workforce.

The intensity of the work and the pay scale were cited as major reasons for the vast turnover rate, which has nationally increased up to 60%.

“We hope to encourage and incentivize educators to come into this field and stay in the early childhood years, that birth through five range,” says Kim Thomason, the program’s manager. “What we do know is we have to support community agencies and partners that we have in their endeavors to stabilize and recruit our current workforce.”

The stabilization grant is still available through the Virginia Department of Education, and applications are open until November 30th.

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