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Trends spell trouble for child care industry

According to a new report, child care providers have not recovered from the pandemic. Enrollment and revenue remain low and operating costs are higher than ever.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — You could say Christmas has arrived early at Columbus Learning Centers. Wednesday morning, BMI Federal Credit Union presented a check for $560. The money was donated by employees who said they value early childhood education.

"It impacts all of us and as mothers and fathers want to be able to support the community and give back,” said Sarah Bach, VP of business, BMI Federal Credit Union.

It will go a long way to help the center continue its mission to remain affordable for families.

"That meaning of that check from today, it really speaks to I think the current situation of child care that our expenses are really outpacing our income,” said Gina Ginn, CEO Columbus Early Learning Centers.

That's the case for many child care providers in central Ohio, according to a new report from Columbus-based Action for Children.

"Enrollment is depressed, it's at about 64% of what providers can kind of offer to the community. And when enrollment is down, it's hard to make ends meet,” said Eric Karolak, CEO, of Action for Children. “That enrollment is down in part because staffing is such a challenge. Four out of five child care programs are struggling to keep staffed. And if you don't have enough staff, it limits your enrollment, which reduces revenue and causes tuition to rise.”

At the Columbus Learning Centers location on North Champion Avenue, there’s a classroom that was built in 2020. It still looks brand new. It’s capable of being used to care for 8 infants and toddlers. However, it’s never been used. The reason: not enough staff.

In Clintonville, Balanced Family Academy was able to employ enough staff to open a new building of 5 classrooms in October. But then, owner Courtney Lewis faced an unexpected challenge: rising food costs.

“I think it's approximately a 27% to 29% increase in food,” she said. "The quality food is really important and it's part of what we believe in so we're not going to move away from that."

Higher operating costs mean parents will pay more. Providers agree that can’t be the solution and there is no easy solution.

"The state of child care right now it's really on a precipice,” Ginn said. “And we as a community are the only ones that can fix it and it requires action today, right now. "

Bottom line they say it comes down to public and private investment. An investment in community.

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