Some childcare workers can get their college loans forgiven — but many are blocked


Posted Aug 29, 2022, 9:05 am

Adrienne Briggs has $55,000 in student loans. Each month, she pays $150 toward the debt.

Briggs runs a small child care center out of her home in
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where she’s been caring for children for 30

“I am 62 years old and should be looking toward retirement,” Briggs
said. But with loans to pay, she doesn’t think that will happen.  She
kept chipping away at the loans, even during the suspension of federal
student loan payments intended to provide relief during the pandemic.
But that extra effort barely brought the debt down.

“I’ll probably have to work until 102 to pay them off,” she said.

The federal Department of Education allows child care providers to
participate in its Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, but only if
they work in a nonprofit or federally run child care center, like Head
Start, for 10 years. That leaves child care workers who are employed by
for-profit centers and self-employed providers who run in-home centers,
like Briggs, out in the cold.

Similar rules apply to teachers, who qualify for loan forgiveness if
they work for a public school or a nonprofit school. However, teachers
who work for private schools typically qualify because most of these schools are nonprofit organizations — unlike private child care.

But those child care workers are offering a public service as well,
argues Home Grown, an organization that fundraises and advocates for
in-home child care centers.

“What the field is calling for is clarification that early childhood
employers and those working in early childhood centers that are
for-profit should also be eligible and not required to also prove a
nonprofit status in order to receive loan forgiveness,” said Alexandra
Patterson, Home Grown’s director of policy and strategy. It’s an
argument that the organization made recently to the U.S. Department of
Education, which solicited public input this summer on how to improve
its loan forgiveness program.

The Biden administration announced
on Wednesday that Pell Grant recipients will be offered $20,000 in loan
debt forgiveness, with $10,000 cancelled for other borrowers. The loan
forgiveness will be subject to income restrictions. The administration
also announced it will extend a pause on loan payments through the end
of the year.

Nearly 1 in 5 child care workers have student loan debt, according to a  Stanford University survey of 802 providers
across the United States. That rate is about the same as the share of
adults in the U.S. with student loan debt, said Cristi Carman, program
manager of the RAPID survey at Stanford University.

“What we know about the childcare workforce is that they are
dramatically underpaid, they have limited access to benefits, and they
have an increasing … instability in their employment,” Carman said. “And
many in our survey told us they have multiple jobs.”

On average, child care workers made $11.65 an hour
in 2020, according to the Center for the Study of Child Care
Employment. Those with a bachelor’s degree who worked in private centers
earned a median of $15.41 per hour.

Briggs had a high school diploma when she started watching children
out of her home, but over the years, she started going after advanced
degrees: first a child care certification, then an associate degree, a
bachelor’s degree and finally, in 2013, she received her master’s

“With each level, I was learning more and more, and realized there
was still so much more to learn about children and families and child
care,” Briggs said. “And of course, over the years, all of this has been
changing. So, with the constant changes, [there] was a need for
constant knowledge.”

For Briggs, who offers a preschool program for toddlers, getting her
master’s degree was about making her in-home program the best it could
be. Her business, Lil’ Bits Family Child Care Home, has the highest
ranking in Pennsylvania’s Keystone STARS program for rating providers.

“I did this for my business and for the children and their families,
to be able to offer the best that I could possibly offer,” Briggs said.
“I honestly did not think about the debt end of it at the time that I
was trying to better my program.”

Briggs’ income has not gone up with her education level — she said
she makes about $30,000 per year, depending on how many children are
enrolled in her program, which is capped at six. Because of this, she
receives a reduced rate to repay her student loans at $150 instead of
the $600 per month she would have been paying if her income were higher.
But the amount she pays each month barely covers the interest.

“This is just a huge debt over me that I see no end to,” Briggs said.

BriAnne Moline is in a similar situation. She started as a janitor in
a child care center 15 years ago, before being hired as a child care
provider. She enrolled in an associate degree program for early
childhood in 2009 and completed it a few years later. When financial
difficulties forced the center she worked at to shut down unexpectedly,
Moline enrolled in an online bachelor’s degree program. At the same
time, she decided to open her own child care program at her home in
Missoula, Montana.

That was five years ago. Now, Moline enrolls 22 children at her
in-home, group child care center. She is set to graduate with her
bachelor’s degree next summer, and has about $60,000 in student loan

Because of those loans, she hasn’t been able to buy a house; instead,
she runs her center from her rented home, a situation that often comes with challenges of its own.

“I have tried to apply for housing loans and things like that just to
make my children’s future and my business’ future more stable, and I’m
always disqualified because of those student loans,” Moline said.

Student loan debt is just one challenge providers face in an industry
in the midst of collapse, said Annie Dade, a policy analyst for the
Center for the Study of Child Care Employment. The industry’s challenges
have been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic: A jobs tracker developed by the CSCCE shows that, as of July, child care employment was 8.4 percent lower than it was before the pandemic.

Faced with a shortage of child care workers, states have cobbled together a hodgepodge of changes
designed to address different facets of the problem, from raising
classroom ratios to lowering the age of child care employees. Those
solutions are not only dangerous, Dade said, but are unlikely to help
the industry in the long run. Without significant investment, the child
care market will continue to collapse.

“For those who have been studying the field for a while and
understanding the issues that affect the workforce, it’s coming at no
surprise because of how low wages fuel high turnover and make it really
hard for folks to stay,” Dade said.

Even if all child care providers were allowed to participate in the
Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, Patterson said, it’s unlikely
that program alone would transform the workforce. But it would be a huge
relief to the workers who are already working in child care and dealing
with low wages and few benefits, she said.

“This is an opportunity to provide relief to the early workforce, but
we are also consistent in saying that there needs to be additional
investment in the sector,” Patterson said.

This story about public service loan forgiveness was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for the Hechinger newsletter.

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