It’s 11:56pm. I wake up dripping in sweat. My stomach hurts. I get out of bed and head to the bathroom. This becomes my routine for the next hour until I finally give up and move to the couch. Maybe a change of scenery will help. Repeat trips to the bathroom for the next 4 hours until I finally fall asleep from exhaustion; mentally, physically, emotionally.
I feel like I am at a crossroads in my life. There are too many things going on at one time; too many expectations. Too much pressure. I own an Early Childhood Center and we are in the midst of building renovations. For a number of reasons that are out of my control, the project has been delayed. I can’t think of any other business that is this unique. Early Childhood Centers and Family Providers, are typically private entities, but they provide a public service. And not just any service… one that is both deeply personal to families and also a necessity; because after all, people have to work.
I have years of administrative experience in public and non-profit settings. While I gained a great deal of leadership experience during those years, none of them prepared me for the deeply personal questions that people ask or in some cases demand.
“I haven’t seen you lately. It must be nice to make your own schedule”… when it reality I’m buried in paperwork or running to a meeting for a child’s therapy services.
“Are you going to be raising your tuition rates this year? Because you raised them last year.”
“If you have kids at least you don’t have to pay for child care, so tuition doesn’t really impact you.”
“What is your salary? I hope this tuition raise isn’t going to your salary.”
If the cost of goods such as milk or eggs go up in price, do you walk into that store and demand to know why milk prices are so high? I think not. Do you walk up to the Owner or Manager of a company and ask what their salary is? I think not. But for some reason, in child care there are no boundaries. If you look into community meetings that have been held there is one similarity that arises. At some point in the conversation someone will boldly pronounce that they have done the math and there is no way providers aren’t making big bucks. Easily $60-70,000 annually. Unfortunately, that is simply not true for the majority of us. And through no fault of their own, many who mean well, simply don’t understand the extreme costs associated with child care.
Child Care, Daycare, Early Childhood Care… regardless of terminology, it’s a big issue. It’s an issue because there is a child care crisis and shortage in our state of Minnesota, and it’s an issue because the cost to implement the regulations and meet all of the requirements are great. This is an industry with a finite revenue source. The ability to enroll children is based on square footage, and at Here We Grow, it is based on quality. I will not cram children into a space simply to ensure a higher bottom line because not only is that not good for children, it is not good for teachers. It creates an environment of stress. That means tuition rates must reflect the type of learning environment.
But what is even more challenging, is that because the cost to create quality early childhood environments is so high, the tuition is high. And that makes it personal. It makes it personal for families who are trying to pay tuition costs that are often higher than their mortgage. So yeah, it’s personal.
But it’s also personal for me, the business owner. Because this is not just a business, this is a passion. There are countless others who are owners of early childhood centers or family providers, who share my passion. And that passion is partnering with families.
But something is shifting. It has shifted. And if I’m honest, it’s what keeps me up at night. And it’s a simple statement.
I… cannot do it all.
We, as business owners in early childhood cannot do it all. We are experiencing an increasing amount of pressure to both solve the childcare crisis, while keeping tuition low, while complying with increasing regulations, while creating quality environments, while accepting state assistance that is delayed… oh and while being paid a wage that is less than what most grocery stores or even Kwik Trip Gas Stations provide.
While it is true, that I did not go into this to make millions of dollars, the age-old adage of “You don’t go into teaching for the money; it’s about the children”, just isn’t going to cut it anymore. There is simply nothing left to give.
I’m sorry if that feels doom and gloom but it’s the truth. At some point we have to address the issue. At some point we have to say, “no more”. There needs to be a comprehensive approach to child care reform and it starts with tax credits.
If the economy depends upon people to fill jobs, then it depends on child care. Until there are tax reforms for small businesses who contribute to child care costs for families, and until there are tax credits for child care providers, there will continue to be a child care provider exodus. And that stunts job growth.
Until there is a shift in the mindset that acknowledges providers are not glorified babysitters, but rather educators deserving of decent wages and time off for professional development, there will continue to be a child care provider exodus.
Until there is an acknowledgement, that there is a systemic issue, riddles with increasingly burdensome requirements, there will continue to be a child care provider exodus.
But one thing is for sure. It is not healthy for me, and other providers, whether family or center based, to continue to bear all of these things on our own, with little to no support.
We need our Representatives and Senators to not only listen, but take action. We need our local and state government to take action. We need reform.
Until then, I cannot continue on trying to bear the burden of all of these different parties. I can only focus on what I can control, and that is our own learning environment. And it includes difficult decisions such as closures to meet the required Staff Development and unfortunately it most likely includes increased tuition. Does that mean that I will cease fighting for change and advocating? No. But you have to play the game while trying to change the game. And that means there will be a period of overlap while change occurs. Tuition may have to increase statewide for action to occur.
What all of this means, is that providers need others to fight along with us. We need the support of local businesses. We need the support of local government. We need to come together to make change.
While I am not going anywhere, until change occurs, the exodus will continue.