San Diego child care centers struggle with staffing crisis


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Even before COVID it was difficult to hire childcare staff because the positions are undervalued and poorly paid. Now it’s nearly impossible. K PBS investigative reporter, Claire Traeger looks at what’s causing a childcare staffing crisis in the region

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In May, 2021. Our had just graduated from SDSU with a degree in child and family development and went looking for her first job. She was hired immediately by a local preschool. This

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Is the first and only job I applied to and it ended up working out. But

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Her college education did little to prepare her for what she ended up walking into.

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Technically I would have a co-teacher and we would split up the children six and six, but with where I’m at right now, I am keeping all 12 kids

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Together, six months into the job, Allie and her classroom of toddlers are left with a rotating cast of substitute teachers. Allie doesn’t wanna reveal her full name or the name of her. Cool to protect her job.

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We put, um, name tags on the children so that we can help the subs, identify them. And they can actually refer, refer to them by

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Their name. Plus sometimes the subs themselves call in sick or just

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Don’t show up. I’ve noticed how attached they are to me. And when other subs come in, that was a good job. Yeah. It’s kind of like stranger danger,

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Preschools and childcare centers everywhere are dealing with a massive staffing shortage on job search websites. There are more than 200 local childcare openings. Some even offering signing bonuses, providers told K PBS, they can’t find qualified people to hire. The problem is much worse than the general labor shortage trend childcare providers have to compete with retailers and restaurants for workers, but those other sectors can raise starting wages. Plus people are still worried about catching COVID UN vaccinated toddlers.

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We’re asking so much for, you know, $12 an hour when you could be making more at

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McDonald’s Caitlyn. McClean is with the center for the study of childcare employment at UC Berkeley. If

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We want to make sure that families have access to these services, we have to make sure that this is a good job that people want to do. And we have not been

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Doing that on average, California preschool teachers make less than half of what kindergarten teachers make. And more than a third of childcare workers live below the federal poverty line. Raising pay for these workers might seem like an easy solution, but there’s a domino of first off state regulations require childcare centers to have one teacher for every four infants and one for every six toddlers, which means a lot of staff. So if they pay more, they’d have no choice, but to raise rates for parents, which many can’t afford

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There, there’s no way that I can, um, continue to ask parents to pay out of pocket, um, at a higher weekly rate than I already do. I’m already within market

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Rate. Holly Weber owns magic hour preschool in Mira Mesa. It’s just

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Running a fine line between parents choosing to not even go back to work because their childcare expenses are so exorbitant

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People of course are gonna apply to jobs where you aren’t being recognized

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Like Ali, Brianna Mendoza also recently graduated from SDSU with an early childhood education degree, but she has no interest in where working at a preschool. She instead is looking at jobs where she would work one on one with children in crisis, which would pay 21 to $22 an hour.

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I mean, you are constantly like running. I’m telling you like I would be sweating in the classrooms. Like whether I was changing diapers, carrying babies, feeding them sweeping, like it wasn’t as childcare in there. It was like sweeping like housework.

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Meanwhile, Allie who is solo teaching at a local preschool is trying to hold on, but isn’t sure how long she wants to continue considering

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I’m doing the job of two teachers right now at minimum wage. It’s really discouraging.

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Joining me is K PBS, investigative reporter, Claire Trieger and Claire. Welcome.

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Thank you.

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Now the impact of the staffing shortages is apparently making preschool work much more difficult, but what is it doing to the preschools themselves? I mean, are the schools turning away? New kids are some closing up entirely.

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Yes. Uh, definitely to both. Um, you know, there’s been a number of schools that have had to close during the pandemic and then something that I’m hearing a lot now is that they would like to expand. They’d like to be able to have more classrooms and help more kids, uh, take in more kids. And they just can’t because they can’t hire enough staff to fill those classrooms. So definitely a problem of, uh, lack of access for more kids who are wanting to go back to preschools right now,

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It sounds like even before the pandemic, the entire preschool sector existed by underpaying teachers and now that’s just an not working anymore. Is that one way to look at it?

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Um, sort of, I mean, I think that yes, preschool teachers have always been underpaid and under undervalued. Um, you know, it’s a position that doesn’t have as much respect necessarily from general society as, as maybe like elementary school teachers. And, you know, there’s just a, a massive labor shortage going on everywhere right now. And so it’s kind of really built up the problem where if you’re looking at maybe a retail job that can increase its pay for, for employees and someone’s looking to turn back, return back to work, they might go and, and be more interested in, in one of those jobs that pays more than, uh, a childcare job, even if you know their passion or what they really enjoy is, is childcare.

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And what kind of an education background do childcare staff need?

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Well, it varies to do a family home based childcare. You don’t need any educational background. You do need a number of, uh, trainings and certificates like CPR training, things like that. Um, and then for, uh, for more state funded programs, you might actually need a bachelor’s degree. Some private preschools just prefer that in, in applicants. And then, um, most preschool teachers need 12 college credits. So you do need at least some level of, um, of college classes to be able to teach at a preschool.

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Can you give us a little more background on, on why childcare facilities feel they can’t raise staff salaries to a living wage?

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Right? So childcare facilities, they have a lot of government, uh, oversight and, and restrictions, which makes sense. You know, you don’t want people to be able to do whatever they want when you’re dealing with, with babies and toddlers. And so one of the big ones is the ratio. So for babies, you need, um, one teacher for every four babies. And then for slightly older kids, you need, uh, one teacher for every say, six toddlers. And that means you just need to have way more staff than you would in akin garden, where you might have one teacher with 20 kids or something like that. And those staff, they cost a lot because they have benefits and, um, pay. And so even if the pay is, is lower, it’s still very expensive for schools to have all of the staff. And so they operate on really thin profit margins.

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And so if they need to increase the pay of their staff, they’re going to then need to increase the cost to families. But as you know, most families would tell you daycare or preschools childcare are already, you know, barely affordable. And so even if you raise their cost by say a hundred dollars a month, that might make it make a difference for, for families where they’re gonna say, you know what? I can’t even afford to send my kid to, to preschool. I’m going to stay home and take care of them anyways, or I’m gonna, you know, find another solution or whatever it is. So the center’s risk losing customers if they raise their price even just a little bit.

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And when we speak about staff, isn’t it mostly women who are underpaid in these childcare jobs.

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Yes, it’s 94% of the industry, uh, are women. And a lot of them are women of color.

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Now what could be the ramifications on the workforce if childcare costs go

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Up? Right? So, I mean, I touched on this a little bit, but it, it could mean that there are far more, especially, you know, unfortunately women who stay home to, to take care of kids because they say, you know, we just can’t afford this. And especially if you have maybe more than one kid, you’re gonna say, I’m just gonna quit my job. I’m gonna stay home because the childcare cost is more expensive than what I’m actually getting paid. Um, and so it would really, you know, continue to remove when from the workforce

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Now, Claire, this is the first of a two part report that you’re doing on childcare staffing. What do you cover in tomorrow’s report?

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Well, yeah, today kind of laid out what seems like a really impossible problem. Um, and tomorrow I’m going to look at some potential solutions. Unfortunately the biggest one seems to depend on Congress doing something at the federal level, which, um, may be difficult. Um, but then also looking at, uh, there’s talk of a local ballot measure that might address the problem and some state, uh, state solutions as well.

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I’ve been speaking with KPBS, investigative reporter, Claire trier, Claire. Thank you.

Speaker 2: (10:17)

Thank you so much.

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