Early Childhood Education Experts Weigh in on Child Care Crisis at County-Wide Forum

Starting Point and Collaborate Cleveland host public and private sector leaders in child care crisis forum including Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb and Cuyahoga County Executive Chris Ronayne.

Last Thursday, April 11, 2024, in partnership with Collaborate Cleveland, Starting Point hosted a panel discussion on the child care crisis, “Child Care is the Heart of the Economy.” The discussion reinforced the importance of child care for the economy and explained how damaged the child care system is. 

 

The panel of experts, moderated by Abby Westbrook, Executive Director of Collaborate Cleveland, consisted of Bishara Addison from the Fund for our Economic Future, Rick Carfagna from the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, and David Smith with the Horizon Education Centers.

 

Rick Carfagna, an expert in Ohio economics, succinctly summarized the problem: “As it relates to child care, it’s too scarce. And when you can find a child care option, it’s too expensive.” The crisis is not just about how pricey child care is—both for parents to afford, and programs to run–but how it affects the workforce. Without access to quality and affordable childcare, many parents and guardians are forced to stay home, shrinking the potential workforce and constraining economic growth. This situation disproportionately affects women, who make up half of the workforce but often find themselves unable to pursue employment, education, or formal training due to childcare responsibilities. “The number one problem right now, in the employer community, in this state is, I can’t find good help,” said Carfagna.

 

When Bishara Addison, a former Ohio State Representative and Director of The Fund for Our Economic Future, took the floor, she highlighted another pressing issue concerning child care : the shortage of available, qualified employees in early childhood education. She underscored the historical wage disparity, noting that Ohio’s child care workers often earn a meager $14 to $15 per hour, even with a bachelor’s degree. Addison further emphasized the findings of a survey from a multi-part analysis of Northeast Ohio titled “Where Are The Workers?” revealing that child care ranked among the top five perceived barriers to employment, significantly affecting the economy. In concluding her remarks, she emphasized the urgent need for proper investment in the child care system. “We have not invested properly in this system, and until we do, whether it’s investment from employers, the public sector, or philanthropy, until we have a collective conversation on what it means to really do this work, we’re going to continue to have trouble finding workers.”

 

David Smith, President & CEO of Horizon Education Centers and the third expert on the panel, spoke of his knowledge of what it takes to successfully run a high-quality child care program. With more than 20 years of experience, he’s identified fundamental flaws in the child care system. “The child care model doesn’t work,” Smith said. Affordability is a problem. You can’t charge what it costs to pay your people a decent rate.”

 

Despite the challenges discussed, there were solutions highlighted in the conversation. Nancy Mendez, President & CEO of Starting Point, highlighted the proactive efforts of Mayor Justin Bibb and County Executive Chris Ronayne in addressing child care issues. She praised their leadership, stating, “Our county is really the model for the rest of the state on how to provide UPK, Universal Pre K. It is the gold standard, and they are a very proud partner of Starting Point.” Chris Ronayne echoed this sentiment, expressing his dedication to collaborating with the county, state, and other stakeholders to drive progress. Mayor Bibb was recognized for the City of Cleveland’s investment of ARPA dollars in Bonus & Retention programs for child care workers and a Scholarship program for Cleveland families. He shared why this investment was important to him, with a personal anecdote emphasizing how crucial child care was for him in laying a solid foundation for his educational journey.

 

The awareness of the child care problem is more present than ever. Despite the challenges it presents for our economy and community, there is optimism in the proactive efforts of leaders like Mayor Justin Bibb and County Executive Chris Ronayne and organizations like Starting Point and Collaborate Cleveland, will find solutions that spark a brighter future for all children and families in Northeast Ohio.

Mayor Bibb and Chief Pryor-Jones
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