HARRISBURG, Pa. (ErieNewsNow) – This week, child care advocates called on state lawmakers to support higher wages and expand high-quality providers in the 2023-24 budget. Providers and teachers say they’re running on empty.
The main issue, advocates say, is that there are so many children, but not enough money to pay teachers the wage they deserve. According to Start Strong PA, the average early childhood teacher makes just $12.43 per hour.
“Think about that right now. Think of the Sheetz worker who’s making 17 to $20 an hour. The Target worker, I could go on and on,” said Rep. Pat Harkins (D-Erie), who co-chairs the Early Childhood Education Caucus.
Harkins says child care professionals deserve better.
“The people that are in it are very dedicated people and very committed to the cause. We owe it to them as a Legislature,” said Harkins.
The people behind child care, like Valerie Hamilton, are pleading for both parties to address the crisis.
There is some bipartisan support for the investments.
“We’ll build a solid workforce and then we get everybody back to work and get those polished young minds that we need for our future,” said Sen. Pat Stefano (R-Bedford/Fayette/Somerset/ Westmoreland).
“Our childcare system is really broken, the model is broken, not what people are doing, but the way we’re trying to support it is just not working,” said Sen. Judy Schwank (D-Berks). “If we want them to return and we want our economy to be operating at its full potential, we need to be investing in childcare,” she added.
Schwank says 38,000 children are currently on the waiting list for child care. Lawmakers believe more funding means more early educators, which means more parents returning to work.
“You have people who want to get back in the workforce, but they can’t because the providers aren’t there to afford them a quality education for their Pre-K students,” said Harkins.
Exactly how much will be invested for child care is yet to be determined. Governor Shapiro proposed nearly $66.7 million for child care and nearly $33 million for the Pre-K Counts and Head Start Supplemental programs. Advocates are calling for more and say the crisis is costing the commonwealth $6.65 billion annually.
“Accessible, quality childcare is good business,” said Bob Garrett, CEO of the Greater Susquehanna Valley Chamber.