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The reasons why childcare is getting so expensive in the Tri-Cities

The reasons why childcare is getting so expensive in the Tri-Cities

TRI-CITIES, Wash. – Childcare centers in the Tri-Cities say they are struggling to stay afloat, at the same time parents say they simply can't afford the rising costs.

Plus, with new teaching regulations slated to come next year, providers said some centers are expected to close.

The state has proposed changing the educational requirement for Lead Teachers in childcare classrooms.

There is currently a 30 Hour Basic Training requirement in place as well as a 10 Hour on-going annual training. In addition to that, the state has already implemented their Early Achievers program, that offers coaching and training to teachers prior to giving the center (or family home) a quality rating of 1-5 stars (simplified version).

The new proposed Washington Administrative Code (WAC) requirement would have all Lead Teacher obtain an Initial Certificate of ECE within 3 years (12 credits) and obtain the Short Certificate (total of 20 credits) of ECE by the 5th year.

“Doesn’t sound too bad on the surface,” said Ginger Still, owner of Kid’s World Childcare in the Tri-Cities. “However, centers across the state are finding it difficult to hire let alone retain staff long enough to obtain the training and once they do, employees move on to better paying jobs.”

Additionally, Still said the cost of the new certificates are substantially more money than the current requirements. The state does have a scholarship program. However, Still said that the budget has been cut by 25 percent already.

“So the requirement is up and the funding is way down, this alone is a huge barrier to meeting the proposed WAC,” Still said.

Lastly, after the 5th year, childcare centers will not be able to hire Lead Teachers that do not currently hold the Short Certificate.

“This will cause centers across the state to be out of compliance in an area that they do not have any, or very little, control over,” she explained.

The RCW for the Early Start Act is already in place, at this point child care providers working to influence the proposed WAC in a way that will work for everyone and maintain compliance in the process.

“We are for teacher training,” Still said. “We just need it to be done in a way that makes sense and allows for sustainability.”

While the requirements and minimum wage for staff is up, funding is down. Childcare providers say this complicates staying in compliance—and ultimately staying open.

The Rising Cost of Childcare

"Childcare can be as much as two to three mortgage payments, depending on how many kiddos you have in childcare," said Kalli Kembel, Owner of Foundations Childcare in Richland.

Kembel said the minimum wage increase has hiked prices for parents and that coupled with new childcare teaching requirements isn't financially feasible.

"You're going to lose quality centers, you're going to lose quality staff, you're going to lose people who care so much about the children because of financial burdens we are now facing as centers," she said.

Childcare providers like Kembel said low subsidy-rates are also making it difficult to accept state-funded children into their programs. The price gap between the private-pay parents and state-funded parents cause centers to suffer a significant financial deficit and have to close their doors.

Low Subsidy Rates-this is an on-going concern that more likely will not be addressed in the short session, but is a concern to providers and parents alike.

"It's unfortunate to me that these centers are having to raise the cost to the point where now it's almost unaffordable and at the same time reduce the availability to subsidized families,” said Sabrina Melendrez, a parent of two children in childcare. “Because if you're reducing low-income families from being able to take part in the program then there's a whole group of kids being set back from the very beginning."

The problem is so bad parents and providers are calling for help from legislators in Olympia.

"Early learning really got left behind because of the K-12 financial crisis," Rep. Larry Haler said.

Haler said early learning centers are critical for children's educational, emotional and social development.

"We have to somehow fund these so that the burden of running those centers do not fall on the middle-class families," Haler said.

Haler said he's hoping lawmakers can concentrate efforts to improve the shortfalls in early learning.

"There might be state subsidies we may have to put in there on top of the state subsidies we already have," he explained.

Parents, providers want to work together with legislators to find a solution to prevent crippling childcare in the future.

To learn more about the challenges childcare is facing you can visit www.WAchild.com.

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