Sen. Warner visits Richmond, discusses push for federal funding of Virginia childcare programs

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Posted at 5:36 PM, Jan 22, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-22 17:47:09-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- As parents of young children and providers of quality childcare feel the pinch of Virginia's early childhood education crisis, a group of providers met with U.S. Senator Mark Warner in Richmond Monday to address some of the issues they are facing.

Providers said they continue to struggle to find and retain quality educators because many can find equivalent pay working in restaurant or retail spaces.

To run a quality early childhood education center or program, more funding needs to be available to retain their people and expand the number of slots for families, providers told Warner.

"Whichever argument you want to take, whether the moral argument or the economic argument, there’s enough there this should appeal to everybody across the political spectrum," Warner said.

Warner said he supports efforts on the state level to ensuremore than 35,000 families don't lose childcare access after federal COVID-19 funding runs out this year.

The state funding is part of more than $400 million for early childhood education in Governor Glenn Youngkin's budget proposalthat state lawmakers are set to debate soon.

Those state dollars, if approved, would only maintain the status quo.

Warner said he and Senator Tim Kaine plan to push for $16 billion in federal funding annually that could go directly to providers to hire more workers, retain them through better pay and bonuses, and fund healthy meals programs.

Many times, judging the success of early childhood education takes years, which Warner said makes the investment into children all the more important.

"If that child goes to school healthy and ready to learn, and years later never gets in trouble and doesn’t have some mental health issue or other issues because of that early investment, it’s hard sometimes for the scorekeepers to realize a lot of that goes back to early childcare," Warner said.

Shunta Summers was one of the providers in attendance on Monday.

Several years ago, she started Foundations Learning Academy in South Richmond, just off Midlothian Turnpike.

Her center sits in an area that could be considered a childcare desert, where finding access to quality care can seem impossible to many families.

“‘Oh, I’ll just wait until they get to school," said Summers about the attitude from many of the families she worked with. "They saw it as babysitting, drop-ins. They didn’t see the value of educating their children.”

"Planting the seed early, even with the families to know their involvement with their child’s education as early as possible, is critical in bringing up successful children" she continued.

Summers said she looks at solutions to the crisis as a holistic issue that will require backing from local, state, and federal funding. Beyond just wages, Summers said supporting staff members through professional development or academic pursuits could help keep more workers in the childcare industry.

While there are a lot of needs in the space, Summer said considering the best outcomes she's experienced shows why this issue should be a priority.

“I’ve been doing this long enough I do run into some of our former families that have children who are now in college, and no one else in their family has gone to college," she said. "We can finally attack some of the negative numbers that we have in our society with education, we can quantify it, it just takes a lot longer.”

Warner said he hopes Congress does sign off on an expansion of the child tax credit, which could help millions of American families with paying for childcare costs.

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