By Zeta Cross | The Center Square
(The Center Square) – Some daycare providers in Illinois say their businesses can’t remain open unless the state makes changes to capacity limits.
Libby Canady is the director of the not-for-profit Christian Child Care Center in rural Logan County. She has 27 teachers on her payroll and has been able to keep them employed thanks to a small reserve and a Childcare Restoration Grant of $65,000 from Illinois. Canady said the grant money came in the nick of time, and she is “beyond grateful” for the help.
“The grant was amazing,” she said. “But it isn’t enough. My grant has literally been taken by payroll.”
Childcare workers are essential workers in Illinois. On Sept. 21, Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced $156 million in Business Interruption Grants to 4,686 licensed childcare centers across the state. Christian Child Care Center was one of them. The money is designated to help the centers follow COVID guidelines, which means smaller classes and a higher child-to-teacher ratio. In a statement announcing the grants Pritzker emphasized the importance of safe childcare to the health of Illinois’ economy.
“Even in these incredibly difficult economic times – Illinois directed federal pandemic response dollars to helping child care providers operate in safer, smaller group sizes without needing to impose large tuition increases on families,” Pritzker said in a statement.
Canady said her center will only be able to keep operating if the restriction on the numbers of children can be eased.
At the 30-year-old Christian Child Care Center, Canady rents the local Odd Fellows Hall, where she has classrooms with separate bathrooms. COVID-19 restrictions have limited Canady to serving 77 children – down from 107, her former capacity. That means that fees coming in have dropped by 50%. Canady has had to reduce her hours and raise prices, but that is still not enough to meet her expenses.
What she needs is to be able to take in more children, she says.
Some kindergartens in Illinois have reopened with the ability to combine classes and teach in larger groups than daycare centers. The largest group that a daycare center is allowed is 15 children. Public school kindergartens are allowed to have 20. Before COVID-19, Canady combined classes in the early morning and at the end of the day. COVID-19 regulations prohibit that.
“What I could do pre-COVID with three teachers now takes me 11,” Canady said.
Canady and other Illinois child care providers believe they can handle larger groups more safely than kindergartens can, because they have more staff. Kindergartens are allowed to have 30 children out on the playground at one time. Day care centers are limited to 15 children maximum.
“What makes a school any different? Actually, we do it better,” she said. “We have more staff per child.”
Canady and her fellow child care directors are talking to their legislators, hoping that quiet, one-to-one lobbying will help them convince the state to let them serve more children.