Early Childhood Education Caucus Highlights Need for More Pre-K Teachers, Child Care Workers

HARRISBURG – Today, the bicameral, bipartisan Early Childhood Education Caucus hosted a rally with child care and pre-K students, teachers and parents as well as other advocates to underscore the worsening impacts of the commonwealth’s early learning teacher shortage.

The caucus co-chairs, Sen. Pat Stefano (R-32), Sen. Judy Schwank (D-11), Rep. Pat Harkins (D-1) and Rep. Shelby Labs (R-143), are working to build bipartisan support for recruitment and retention investments that will help to remedy the teacher shortage and ensure that early learning supply can meet the demand from working families.

“We all understand that the state of child care in Pennsylvania needs to change,” Schwank said. “Low pay for childhood educators, long waitlists and high prices for parents are just a few of the major problems we need to address at the state level, and we have an excellent opportunity to do that in this year’s budget.”

Speakers detailed how low teacher compensation fuels the shortage which leads to a growing number of child care and pre-K classroom closures, and drives up waitlists for working families.

“This is an issue I have heard from early learning providers throughout my district,” said Stefano. “We must work together to prioritize funding to help the early learning sector attract and retain its workforce.”

Dr. Leah Spangler, chief executive officer (CEO) of The Learning Lamp Early Learning Centers, stated that child care in Pennsylvania is “on life support” as her organization is currently seeing 97 job openings and 546 children on the waiting list for care.

Spangler believes that with better pay leading to filled job openings, they would be able to serve an additional 1,286 children. She also noted that child care programs cannot pay wages that match those of other businesses, like convenience stores and grocery retailers, and that this causes a staff turnover rate of more than 50% annually.

“Other states have established revenue streams to better support their early learning workforce and it’s time we do the same,” Stefano said. “Though not everyone in the commonwealth has a young child at home, the aggregate effects of the early learning teacher shortage impact everyone. When a parent wants to work but cannot find child care and then needs to stay home full-time, our workforce, and thus our economy, suffers.”

Tim Fallon, CEO emeritus of Lehigh Valley Public Media and member of the Pennsylvania Early Learning Investment Commission called child care “the workforce behind the workforce.”

He presented findings from a new employer survey from the PA Chamber of Business and Industry and the Early Learning Investment Commission showing that 80% of Pennsylvania employers surveyed said they have moderate or significant recruitment and retention issues due to child care.

“Supporting families means making sure child care is open and available across the Commonwealth,” said Labs. “We must invest in our early learning teachers now, or we will see more classrooms close in the future, which will only serve to harm our children’s development.”

Other speakers included Indiana County Sheriff Robert Fyock, a member of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, and retired Army Lt. Gen. Dennis Benchoff, who spoke on behalf of Mission: Readiness.

Harkins referred to the business model of child care and early learning as “clearly broken” and called the Shapiro Administration’s budget proposals to increase child care subsidy a crucial step forward.

“It’s also critical that we tackle the teacher shortage side of the child care crisis head-on. Looking to other state models of how to effectively invest in recruitment and retention initiatives for the child care sector must be a top commonwealth priority,” Harkins said.

The event was held by the co-chairs in partnership with Start Strong PA, Pre-K for PA and the Pennsylvania Early Learning Investment Commission, to support of further investment in early childhood education across the commonwealth. This budget cycle, the caucus is focused on supporting the early childhood education workforce to better stabilize and meet the demand for child care and pre-K services for working families.


CONTACT:    Amanda Cuteri, (Sen. Stefano’s office), 717-787-7175
                        Spencer Thornburg, (Sen. Schwank’s office), 610-929-2151