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Parents Send Pre-School Plea To D.C.

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Laura Glesby PhotoSelena Calderon has “lost a few jobs” trying to land an early childcare slot for her 1-year-old.

She told two U.S. senators about that in the hope that they can help fix the problem on a national scale.

Calderon shared her story on Monday morning to U.S. Sens. Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal, as well as about 20 childcare providers, advocates, and parents from across the state. They sat in a circle beneath a galaxy of disc-like lights in the Dr. Reginald Mayo Early Learning Center auditorium.

Murphy and Blumenthal had convened the roundtable discussion to gain feedback and personal stories from constituents as they advocate for childcare and preschool provisions in the proposed Build Back Better Act currently before the Senate.

Calderon told them that her 1-year-old is on multiple waiting lists for an early childcare program. Calderon called 2-1-1 in her desperation to get her kid a slot —  but a pandemic-intensified childcare provider shortage has led her to roadblock after roadblock.

According to the Center for American Progress, Connecticut families spend an average of 10 percent of their income on childcare, amounting to an average of $342 per week. The Build Back Better Act would create two years of universal public preschool for 3 and 4-year-olds and subsidize childcare on a sliding-scale rate, ranging between 0 and 7 percent of a family’s income.

The act would also raise the national early childcare and preschool teacher wage to a minimum of $15 per hour, while requiring preschool teachers to receive commensurate pay to kindergarten teachers with the same qualifications. These programs would be largely funded by a tax on the ultra-wealthy.

Early childhood education has widely demonstrated, long-lasting impacts on children’s math and reading skills, emotional and behavioral health, and economic mobility as adults. The lack of access to early childhood education is “holding a generation of kids back,” Murphy said.

Murphy and Blumenthal after the roundtable event.Murphy and Blumenthal said that on Capitol Hill, they plan to focus on the effects of childcare access on parents’ ability to find employment, as in Calderon’s case, in the wake of a worker shortage.

“In the wake of the pandemic, so many parents can’t go back to work to make a living wage because they can’t afford the childcare that would allow them to go back to work,” Murphy said. He believes that senators still on the fence about the act will be most likely to respond to an argument that parents need childcare in order to work and contribute to the economy.

Parent and advocate Eddie Blue told the group that he had to stay at home to take care of his 5 and 6-year-old kids when the pandemic hit. While his wife worked in special education, Blue, who runs both a security business and a dog training business, reduced his work hours by about 65 percent in order to watch his children. His income took a hit. Amid the turmoil, he had to get creative in order to bring moments of fun and calm home — once, going to the Dollar Store to lighten his family’s home with a pack of glow sticks.

While the pandemic affected his business, Blue considers himself lucky that he had the flexibility to stay home with his kids in the first place, he said. Both of his kids went to preschool at Reginald Mayo, where the roundtable had convened. His older son had struggled with speaking before preschool: “I would see him get frustrated because he couldn’t say what he wanted to say,” Blue recalled after the roundtable. But the pathologists and educators at Mayo helped his son enormously, he said.

Now, he can’t stop talking — about how much he loved his preschool speech pathologist.

Sager: Childcare providers sewing masks onto dolls to help kids learn pandemic safety rules.Jessica Sager, who runs the family and childcare advocacy organization All Our Kin, said that for every dollar invested in childcare businesses, the economy benefits by $15 to $20, since childcare and preschool allows parents to work and children to grow with lifelong positive repercussions.

Childcare’s critical role in the economy and workforce has seemed clearer than ever during the pandemic, when parents across the country found themselves with no other option but to stay home with their children as schools closed.

Preschool classrooms help teach kids essential social and behavioral skills. Centers that remained open during the pandemic, caring for the kids of essential workers during a turbulent time, offered a particular source of solace. Sager recalled hearing stories, again and again, of childcare providers providing mental health care referrals and “sewing tiny masks for baby dolls to make what was happening outside less scary.”

According to a Connecticut Voices for Children report, only about 70 percent of Connecticut students in lower-income cities (73.9 percent in New Haven in 2016, according to the city’s website) entered kindergarten with preschool experience in 2018, compared to a statewide average of 80 percent. Connecticut Voices also noted that 80 percent of Connecticut families — and 94 percent of Black and Hispanic families in the state — could not afford to spend 10 percent of their income on infant and toddler care. Connecticut is the fifth most expensive state for childcare in the country.

One parent and educator present Monday noted that for his kid, who attends a local college, “our part time childcare was more than what we pay for college.”

New Haven’s school system provides preschool through a mix of free and sliding scale Head Start, School Readiness, and magnet school-based programs. The district is one of the largest preschool providers in the state. But Connecticut is now facing a severe early childhood educator shortage, providers attested, as teachers and childcare workers have switched to better-paying jobs.

Iline Tracey, New Haven’s superintendent of schools, said that the city’s early childhood learning resources face four key challenges: equitable access for families, low wages for staff, limited opportunities for staff to obtain more training, and inadequate funding to cover the cost of teaching each student, which amounts to $6,000 per child.

Childcare providers are overwhelmingly women, according to advocate and provider Allyx Schiavone —  “women who are being paid to live in poverty,” she said. On top of sector-wide low wages, Black early educators earn $0.78 for every dollar that white early educators make across the country, according to the Associated Press. In Connecticut, early childhood education workers earn $26,800, while teachers earn $40,150, according to Connecticut Voices for Children.

Assistant Superintendent Ivelise Velazquez pointed out that preschool programs should include multilingual options for students. Kids who come into preschool knowing multiple languages often forget one or more of those languages in English-only preschool programs, she said. “They lose a part of their culture.”

Funding for affordable before and after-school programs is also essential for parents who work…

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