Guest Commentary: It’s time to capitalize on early learning momentum


Jon Hickey is the president of the Rotary Club of Wilmington. Patrice Gilliam and George Krupanski are co-chairs of the club’s community service committee.

The Rotary Club of Wilmington is committed to our vision of every Delaware child having a high-quality early education experience. We believe our society has a moral obligation to take care of young children — and research shows this benefits the kids, the community and the economy.

We are excited to see the momentum developing across the state — and we appreciate the leadership of Gov. John Carney, who has committed to making this a key priority for his remaining two years as governor. His recent remarks — including a commitment to serve more families and increase the value for families served — can be viewed on our Facebook page:

We are committed to working with Gov. Carney, our child care partners and the General Assembly to build on the recommended budget for next year. And we remain determined by what we’ve heard from Delaware families: They continue to struggle to access and afford care, instead finding long waitlists and frustration. Today, Delaware is only serving 1 in 7 children under age 5 in public early education programs.

Although Delaware has increased funding in recent years, the per-child rate of investment has been so low that programs have not been able to hire and retain workers. The rate does not cover the costs to meet state requirements of licensing and minimum wage — and challenges are especially pronounced in Kent and Sussex counties. This level of support is simply too low to expect programs to offer a quality service to families. We should not expect contractors to provide a service at half the cost. We would not ask a construction company to build a bridge with half of the materials. Likewise, we shouldn’t ask parents to deal with so many headaches.

Child care centers, without adequate resources or staffing, are closing their classrooms and turning families away. Families shared they face waitlists as long as years, which effectively means those families will not be able to access the service their child needs. And, if they can find child care openings, the cost is often prohibitive, holding back families from going back to work and expanding their careers. This situation has caused significant problems for Delaware employers — and will continue to restrict economic growth.

The good news is Delaware is committed to doing more for child care and for families — and momentum continues to build. The governor has committed to doubling pre-K investments next year, while the Redding Consortium for Educational Equity has invested in pre-K in the city of Wilmington.

It’s time for Delaware to do the right thing for young kids and go even further with our focus and investments. The last big American revolution in education was adding high school for all students almost a century ago. Our next revolution must be catching up with other developed nations and making serious investments in early childhood education.

Call your senator and representative in Dover. Thank them for investing in child care and pre-K, and tell them to increase state child care funding in the state budget — and support the future of our state by:

  • Paying child care programs at the cost of care statewide to support programs to pay educators fairly.
  • Expanding eligibility, so more low-income families can access care.

Visit to learn more and to send a letter to legislators.

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