CARMEL — $4 million has just been awarded to early care and learning providers across the state. It’s part of Early Learning Indiana’s second round of the “Come Back Stronger Fund” grants to help sustain Indiana’s child care centers. Last year was tough on every industry, and that does not exclude child care providers.
“We went from having over 100 kids a day to having 25,” Katie Guerra, The Play School owner, said.
Guerra, who owns The Play School’s three locations in Hamilton County, serving kids from 6 weeks to 12 years old, says when the pandemic first hit, it didn’t feel right having people pay for child care if they didn’t feel comfortable coming.
“We decided that we would give COVID credits and during March and April if you did not go to child care, you could use a COVID credit and not have to pay,” she said.
They, like other businesses, took a hit. But thanks to the Come Back Stronger Fund, provided by Early Learning Indiana, thanks to a grant from the Lilly Endowment, centers like The Play School are keeping their doors open and safe to families.
“Our challenge is to make sure that we have an early learning education system that is ready to meet the need and that frankly is still around,” Maureen Weber, Early Learning Indiana president and CEO, said. “It’s at real risk right now.”
Weber says most of the funding last year went toward cleaning and increased sanitation.
“And that was huge because some of the commercial cleaning equipment,” Guerra said. “We got this electromagnetic sprayer that sprays this COVID killing chemical that adheres to the surfaces and each sprayer was $1,800.”
Now, providers are requesting funds for additional staffing to keep children in separate groups and rooms.
“Getting more space and classroom space and seats and the educational supplies that you need to serve more people in the early childhood,” said Guerra.
“One other difference that we’re seeing this time around is that we are starting to see providers request funding to address learning loss,” Weber said. “Because children have been out of early learning settings for so long now we know that they will be work to do to get them back on track.”
As providers continue to struggle with low enrollment, Weber says, “until enrollment returns fully, we’re going to need to continue to assist providers in someway if you want the early education system to persist.”