As the childcare industry across the country faces a continued labor-force pinch due to the COVID-19 pandemic, one 50-year veteran of the industry here in North Carolina is pushing for a key reform she says would go a long way to solve the problem.
Mary Myers is the owner and operator of two childcare centers in Davidson County. She has been in the business since 1970. In February, Myers filed a petition with the N.C. Child Care Commission to allow experience in the industry to stand in for a degree requirement.
Under state law, pre-kindergarten providers must employ a director who holds a four-year early childhood education degree. Unless a program has an administrator in place with the required credentials, the center can’t qualify has a North Carolina pre-K site.
But switching that requirement to a degree or the requisite number of years of experience would go a long way toward easing the labor market problems in the childcare industry, Myers said.
“Right now, me and a lot of others out there are hurting,” said Myers in a phone interview with Carolina Journal. “I’ve got 15 slots open right now and I can’t fill them. Nobody is walking in the door, nobody is calling. We don’t have the teachers.”
The change included in Myers’ petition would only apply to “established” childcare sites that have been in business for more than four years.
The North Carolina Childcare Commission voted May 2 to deny the request from Myers, and solidified that vote on June 6 by voting on a written response denying the request.
“By holding higher qualifications, NC Pre-K site administrators are better informed and better educated in early childhood which, in turn, benefits the children and families of North Carolina making it more likely that their overall needs will be met as they prepare for Kindergarten,” the denial letter stated.
In addition to the degree requirements, the state also evaluates pre-K centers on a five-star rating scale. In order to participate in the state’s pre-K program, a center must maintain at least a four-star rating on the scale. Moreover, in order to serve families eligible for the Subsidized Childcare Assistance program, the business must maintain at least a three-star rating.
But the challenge is that 50% of the rating is dependent on the number of staff members with degrees. Myers pointed out that a childcare center can’t gain a four- or five-star rating without having a high number of staff members with a minimum four-year degree in early childhood education.
“I’d rather have a teacher who’s got the experience and know-how than one that’s got all the education in the world,” Myers said.
A recent analysis by Wells Fargo economists concluded that nearly half-a-million families in the United States are directly impacted by the childcare shortage. The authors noted that the shortage is having a ripple effect on other industries, as parents who would otherwise be working are forced out of the labor market due to the lack of childcare options.
“I don’t want to retire. I don’t want to quit doing what I’m doing,” Myers said. “I love what I’m doing, but if they don’t give us leeway in there, what are we going to do?”