What do Philly & rural PA have in common? – Feb 23, 2024



The child care crisis in greater Philadelphia persists. And it’s no wonder with preschool teachers making around $35,000 – the lowest of the fastest-growing occupations in the city.

Hundreds of children are languishing on waitlists, not learning in classrooms, because providers cannot find enough qualified staff to fill the vacancies. Low pay is a key reason.

But it’s not just a Philly thing. Across the Commonwealth, 2,400 child care jobs are vacant and 26,000 children are waiting. There’s a child care crisis in urban, suburban, AND rural PA. 

Nineteen rural counties have at least three times the number of young children than they have child care slots. Forest County doesn’t have any child care providers. Whatever child care is available is just not enough to meet the need. 

The lack of affordable, reliable, and quality child care in rural counties is so bad that Republican state Senators Gene Yaw and Dave Argall and the Center for Rural Pennsylvania organized an official hearing to look into the problems and solutions.

The hearing was postponed due to weather, but prepared testimony is up online, starting a much-needed public conversation. Leaders from rural Chambers of Commerce shone the light on child care scarcity in their regions.

“Many families are making the decision for one parent to leave the workforce to care for children, trying to rely on elderly parents for care assistance, put off having children until they can afford it, and in some cases, forgo having children all together,” said Katherine Hetherington Cunfer of the Greater Reading Chamber Alliance.

Laura Manion, President of the Chester County Chamber of Business and Industry, who has experienced her own personal situation of less-than-ideal child care arrangements, highlighted the economic turmoil stemming from child care scarcity. “Without a healthy childcare system, tax revenue declines, workers leave jobs, and economic production suffers…Employee turnover costs companies on average 33% of a worker’s total compensation to replace them while impacting the recruitment of skilled employees.”

“We need quality teachers who will stay in the child care profession they love, not feel it necessary to leave the profession because their providers cannot compete with other educational providers, K-12 who can provide wages and benefits making their lives and families more sustainable, because of the disparity of government funding…,” said Robert S. Carl, Jr., President and CEO of the Schuylkill Chamber of Commerce.

We need action on the state level to solve the child care crisis.

Governor Shapiro’s budget proposal includes a strong increase in new state funding for Pre-K Counts ($30 million) and a modest increase in Head Start Supplemental Assistance ($2.7 million). These funds will help pre-kindergarten programs hire great teachers and begin to re-open shuttered pre-k classrooms.

Shapiro also proposes raising the state’s reimbursement rate for child care providers with $31.7 million to alleviate some – but not all – of the rising facility, food, utility, and supply costs. These funds may also boost wages especially because they can leverage federal matching funds.

These increases, though, are not enough. Pennsylvania must invest millions more dollars to boost wages for early learning teachers or else this problem will never be solved. Philadelphia-area salaries of $35,000/year are atrocious but may look good to providers in Schuykill and Susquenhanna Counties who are making $15,000 less. There is nowhere in the entire Commonwealth where the average child care salary even comes close to the actual cost of living

Pre-k teachers can earn twice more by going to teach in public schools (K-5), so making that swich when you can’t make your mortage payment isn’t suprising, as Robert Carl from Schuykill noted. That goes a long way in explaining why 87,000 eligible three- and four-year-olds do not have access to publicly-funded pre-k programs. 

Govenor Shapiro’s initial proposal is an impressive opening bid but PA families – from Schuylkill and Susquehanna Counties and everywhere else – need a budget that really ups the ante. PA’s youngest children and their teachers depend on it. 

Urgent: Tell the PA House to get some unfinished business done and pass Paid Family and Medical Leave.

“Right now, time and time again cellphones and social media and the pressures that are put on kids to fit in, make risky decisions, risky behaviors…”

– Upper Darby Superintendent Dr. Dan McGarry

Speak directly with your lawmakers about increasing public education funding.

Mark your calendar now and plan to join us for one or all of the days in the state capital. We’ll handle making the appointments and other details – all you need to do is go to childrenfirstpa.org/2024caravan and sign up.

“Good work was done by the bipartisan
PA Juvenile Justice Task Force. Now is
the time for action to improve our
[juvenile justice] system, accountability
and results!”
– state Rep. Dan Miller, D-Allegheny