DOVER — Daycare centers and early childhood educators were thrown onto the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic as someone had to care for the children of those responding to the global emergency. Now, the childcare industry is playing a vital part in many parents’ decision on returning to the workforce.
In response, state and federal leaders announced a significant investment in Delaware’s young learners during a press conference Monday at Delaware State University.
Funds, courtesy of the American Rescue Plan Act, will provide more than $120 million to Delaware. Legislation making this possible was signed on March 11 by President Joe Biden.
“This industry has demonstrated that we play a critical role during difficult times and times of unprecedented, unpredictable situations. Over the last 17 months, our staff has been resilient and capable to face hardships,” said Dr. Melanie Thomas-Price, CEO of A Leap of Faith Child Development Centers in Wilmington.
“We answered the call.”
The ARPA investments include:
• $24 million for Child Care Stabilization grants to help childcare providers statewide remain operating. This investment is in addition to the $66 million in ARPA funding that has already been distributed through these stabilization grants.
• $10.6 million in direct financial relief for Delaware childcare workers.
“Delaware’s childcare providers have stepped up and stayed open throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing hospital workers, first responders, and other emergency personnel to stay on the front lines over the course of this crisis. They deserve our support and a significant debt of gratitude,” said Gov. John Carney. “This new funding from the American Rescue Plan will support childcare providers, help providers keep their doors open, and help them attract and retain staff.”
Also on Monday, Gov. Carney and Delaware State University President Dr. Tony Allen announced an additional $10.6 million in ARPA funds for the university so it can construct an Early Childhood Innovation Center, in partnership with the Delaware Department of Education and the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services.
“We have always known that early childhood experiences are critical to the educational success of all children, especially those of color and/or living in poverty,” said Dr. Allen. “As a longtime advocate for education reform, I am thrilled to see the state taking this decisive step to address the issue. At the same time, I am humbled at the trust placed in Delaware State University, but equally confident that we will deliver for families across Delaware.”
The partnership will last for five years. During that time, DSU will receive a total of $30.6 million to support the construction and launch of the Early Childhood Innovation Center, invest in Delaware’s childcare workforce, and expand access to affordable childcare for Delaware families in need.
The total includes the $10.6 million in ARPA funding announced on Monday.
Under terms of the partnership, which is expected to be finalized this week, DSU would develop statewide infrastructure for a specialized pathway for Delawareans seeking careers in the childcare industry.
The funding will also expand scholarship opportunities to support working professionals who are seeking additional education.
U.S. Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., who spoke at the event along with U.S. Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, D-Del., said investments in young children will help make Delaware better in the future.
“Childcare, early childhood education is economic development,” Sen. Carper said.
Jamie Schneider, executive director of Delaware Association for the Education of Young Children, said Monday’s announcement will not only benefit children but many communities.
“We are a workforce of primarily women, primarily Black, Indigenous women of color, many of whom are mothers and many of whom rely on government subsidy programs because they make just over minimum wage. There are rarely benefits. There is rarely paid time off, and it’s a highly skilled workforce that is responsible for creating the social, emotional and educational foundation children need to not only be successful in academics, but all areas of life,” she said.
She added, with this investment and a new focus on early childhood education and its providers, Delaware may one day be a leader in the nation.
Offiicals say the ARPA funds and a renewed focus on early childhood education in the First State may revolutionize the industry.
“We know it takes a village to raise a child, and we cannot forget about those who make up the village,” said Dannaé Sewell, director of Delaware State University’s Early Childhood Laboratory School. “The parents, guardians, community partnerships, and importantly, the early childhood educators. Keeping the early education workforce at the forefront is everyone’s job.”