A non-profit children’s advocacy group is calling for state legislators to address Pennsylvania’s childcare worker shortage by providing more funding as state budget negotiations ensue.
Children First wants the legislature to allocate $115 million of the state’s budget surplus to raise the hourly wage of childcare workers by $2 an hour.
“Pennsylvania is facing a crisis in childcare, harming our children and undermining the economic prospects of their families,” said Donna Cooper, executive director of Children First, at a news conference held in the Capitol Rotunda on Tuesday.
Roughly 32,500 children in Pennsylvania are on waiting lists for childcare centers, according to a study conducted by the Start Strong PA Campaign, which advocates for access to childcare statewide.
The study blames staffing shortages for the backup, saying if facilities were fully staffed 30,000 more children could have access to childcare. Start Strong PA’s data shows that roughly 91% of responding facilities are short on staff and there are roughly 7,000 open childcare positions available statewide not being filled.
Shantel Drake-Murray, a grandparent that spoke at the press conference, said that she blames the low wages of childcare workers for deterring people from applying for the open positions.
The median annual salary for childcare workers — according to earlychildhoodteacher.org, a website with information for aspiring early childhood development workers — is about $23,000 in Pennsylvania. That salary equates to about $11.50 an hour.
“Throughout the years I have met dozens of early learning educators that were struggling to make ends meet with just the early learning education income,” said Drake-Murray.
She told a story about a childcare worker that couldn’t afford the cost of her monthly rent with her salary, and was forced to leave her position to look for a higher paying job. That worker ended up looking at fast food restaurants and retail stores, both offering a higher wage.
“I just refuse to believe that we live in a world that places higher value on fast food chains and retail than the education and wholeness of our children,” she said.
Fifteen Democratic lawmakers attended the conference in support of raising these workers’ wage.
Rep. Matthew Bradford of Montgomery County, Democratic chair of the state House Appropriations Committee, said that he is tired of the issue being forgotten about in state policy discussions and said that the lack of childcare is negatively affecting the state’s economy.
Access to affordable childcare is essential to increase workforce participation and to boost the state’s economic growth, according to the Committee for Economic Development, a Washington, D.C.-based business-oriented policy center.
Senate Appropriations Committee Democratic Chair Vincent Hughes of Philadelphia shared a similar sentiment to Bradford.
The state has about a $5 billion budget surplus, $2.25 billion in unspent American Rescue Plan Funds and $2.8 billion in the state’s Rainy Day fund. Given that, Hughes said the state can afford the $115 million to raise childcare worker wages.
“We have never had these kinds of resources at one time in the history of the commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” Hughes said. “Why not focus on the children?”
Hughes then went on to blame Republicans from both chambers for inaction on supporting childcare workers.
Jason Gottesman, a spokesman for the House Republican Caucus, said that House GOP are continuing to work on the state budget and are looking to provide for the needs of the state.
A spokesperson for the Senate Republican Caucus wasn’t immediately available for comment.