Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the District, child care/early learning programs were already stretched thin. There weren’t enough slots for all the infants and toddlers who needed them, and child care was not always accessible or affordable to many District families. Now, after nine months of health and safety restrictions, closures, limited government subsidies, and dramatically decreased enrollment, early childhood educators who have dedicated themselves to caring for our youngest citizens are wondering if their businesses will survive.
Amplifying the voices of 170 early education programs from all wards of the District, this brief, based on a survey that DC Action, DC Early Learning Collaborative, DC Association for the Education of Young Children, Washington Area Child Care Association and the Director’s Exchange conducted, offers timely data about the challenges and opportunities facing our local early learning system.
Survey responses depicted an early learning sector in a worrying state, with child care programs experiencing ongoing uncertainty and financial strain. Financial relief has been limited and, in many cases, difficult to access. Meanwhile, in the District of Columbia Chamber of Commerce’s 2020 State of the Business Report, they warned of “continued stagnation in economic activity if workers cannot return to work due to lack of childcare.”
- Two-thirds of early learning programs reopened by the end of November 2020, but families are not re-enrolling children at pre-COVID rates: fewer than ⅓ of programs reported being fully enrolled
- Child care programs are under significant financial strain: revenues have plummeted as costs have risen
- Public and philanthropic relief has helped, but has not met the full need: Programs say only 35% of their costs were covered by grants
- Changes to child care subsidy payment guidelines are likely to deepen financial difficulties: 57% of programs that accept subsidy expect lower payments from OSSE under new payment guidelines
- COVID-19 is exacerbating long-standing workforce challenges, amid new pressures, as over half of programs reported experiencing staffing barriers
Read the full report, including DC Action’s recommendations to DC government for protecting the District’s child care sector.