The coronavirus pandemic continues to cause problems for the state's child care operators. More parents are working from home and caring for their own children. Other parents are hesitant to send their children to child care because the true effect of the virus on young children is unknown.
The Advocate reported that losses for day care operators have more than tripled since May and now total $100 million. Earlier this year, the state Department of Education (DOE) said only 31 percent of the centers remained open, and those closures affected about 83,000 children.
Officials said those figures have now reversed, and 70 percent are open and 30 percent closed. However, Libby Sonnier, executive director of the Louisiana Policy Institute for Children, said there are cases of centers with a capacity of 200 children having only 50 in attendance.
The newspaper said some centers reopened in hopes that the state would move to Phase 3 of the federal reopening plan, but the state remains in Phase 2, which means stricter rules. Gov. John Bel Edwards has said the state showed some signs of improvement, but the state will remain in modified Phase 2 beyond Aug. 7, the current expiration date.
Sonnier said, "The financial viability is hard. There is some thought that the centers that reopened may have to close again because they just can't afford it. We will be releasing results for our most recent survey in August, but the preliminary results are troubling."
Sparked by the results of that survey, Sonnier said the DOE sent out $11 million in grants, which is federal aid approved by Congress. Those funds are helping operators with rent, utilities, employee salaries and cleaning costs.
A different survey that included 94 operators shows that 54 percent of them said they would close permanently without more public aid, 87 percent are serving fewer children than before the pandemic and enrollment is down by an average of 55 percent.
Child care operators are making a point to note how important their centers are for parents who need to work. They are also getting support from top officials of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, Greater New Orleans Inc. and other groups.
Another problem is the fact employees of those centers are paid an average of $8.95 per hour. Louisiana's legislators and its members of Congress need to give serious consideration to additional funding for child care centers that provide the state's youngest citizens with the quality care they deserve.