Louisiana's child day care owners believe they are going to have a difficult time getting a number of their teachers to return to work when allowed under federal guidelines. Their teachers, who make an average of $8.95 per hour during normal times, are receiving about $20 per hour, thanks to increased unemployment benefits they are receiving from the federal government.

The state pays up to $247 per week for unemployment assistance, and the federal government is paying an additional $600 per week from a $2 trillion coronavirus recovery package. An assistant state superintendent of education told The Advocate the health crisis has shined the spotlight on the low pay of those who work in centers that largely care for infants and children up to age 5.

The newspaper reported the pandemic has forced the closing of 70 percent of the state's roughly 1,400 early learning centers and left hundreds of teachers out of work. Some childcare providers are talking about offering bonuses to teachers who give up their unemployment benefits to return to the classroom.

Bonuses will be a problem for many providers. They have lost $30 million because of the pandemic. Parents have been forced to stay at home and kept their children with them. Day care operators said they need an average of $23,000 to reopen.

Advocates for the centers said they need $71 million to restart the state's network of early learning centers, and surveys have shown up to 3 in 10 childcare centers may never reopen. Those that do may have to charge $16,000 annually instead of $12,000 because of smaller enrollments.

One center owner told The Advocate, "The cost of services is going to go through the roof. It will make affordable price and high quality early childhood education unattainable for most of our vulnerable children. That is the last thing we need to happen."

The extra $600 per week in federal unemployment pay will expire July 31, but some believe the federal assistance is so generous it could delay the restart of the state's economy. Some restaurant owners are also having trouble getting their employees back on the job.

Childcare is extremely important for parents who work, undergo job training or attend school. Children in those facilities are also getting an early education experience that will serve them well for the rest of their lives.

We realize the coronavirus pandemic has caused a major drop in state revenues and recovery will take a long time. However, we hope the light that has been shined on the importance of childcare will get major attention when increased funding returns.

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