Commentary: Overcoming Collier’s Pre-K Covid Crisis

We, at Child’s Path, are operating at the center of Collier’s pre-K crisis, which has been exacerbated by the pandemic. It has largely fallen under the radar, but we have watched several pre-K centers in Collier County close over the past year. Most recently, a long-established center with more than 100 students closed its doors. This center was in an affluent part of Naples. Clearly, no program is immune. Before this center closed, 14 other early learning centers had shut down, depriving Collier County of more 789 early childhood education slots for children. Even before Covid, Collier had over 4,000 children that were unserved. 

These closures are the result of several factors. First, the many shutdowns and quarantines caused the loss of significant student tuition. Second, philanthropy was hindered by the difficulty of arranging in-person meetings and nonprofit events. Third, our industry has suffered the same kind of employee turnover that other employers faced. But the drivers of our turnover may be more pronounced because of low teacher salaries industry wide. These low salaries are caused by the need to keep tuition low and affordable for families. The bottom line: Low-paid childcare workers have darted from the industry, in some cases to earn higher pay in other lines of work. In other cases, their own childcare issues prevent them from working. 

With respect to teacher compensation, Child’s Path has launched several initiatives to address this challenge in 2021. First, Child’s Path has instituted pay increases for all teachers this year, and we launched a performance-based bonus program that allows teachers the opportunity to earn even more compensation. For teachers who choose to pursue higher education, Child’s Path now offers additional raises upon completion of their degrees or certificates. We also remove the financial barrier of tuition for teachers, allowing them to attend college at no charge, thanks to T.E.A.C.H. and Child’s Path covering those costs. And, finally, Child’s Path has introduced its innovative Bright Paths Inspiring Teachers Program, which removes all the financial barriers of those who want to pursue a career in early childhood education—paying for background checks, educational certification, and much more to get their foot in the door of the classroom.

With four early learning centers in Collier County, Child’s Path is committed to expansion in order to meet the growing need for early childhood education in our community. If we do this, we not only help Collier families, but the businesses at which they work or worked. We have written previously of the benefits of early childhood education. The return is somewhere between 7 and 13 to 1. The benefits include higher high school graduation rates, lower incarceration rates, higher lifetime incomes, lower rates of single parenting, among others. 

We have one huge challenge, we need funding. We heavily rely on the generosity of foundations, individuals, and businesses in Collier County. If you can help us, let us tell you our story and outline our track record. We want you to understand what we do and how well we do it.

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