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Empty playgrounds, wallets for Louisiana childcare centers

For Wilcox, who was diagnosed with COVID-19 herself, the concern became how to pay her 35 teachers on staff, keep the lights on and figure out a plan to reopen.

NEW ORLEANS — The before and after at Wilcox’s Academy of Early Learning in New Orleans is like a bad dream to owner Rochelle Wilcox.

“This is sad,” said Wilcox. “Having an empty slide that little people are not holding their hands up waiting to slide down. It’s heartbreaking.”

Like most childcare centers across the state, playgrounds and classrooms are empty.

“In the blink of an eye we had to send commination to parents to say that because of this pandemic we will no longer be able to serve our little people, so that means money stops immediately,” said Wilcox.

A third of her money came from private tuition, the rest from state and federal subsidies. For Wilcox, who was diagnosed with COVID-19 herself, the concern became how to pay her 35 teachers on staff, keep the lights on and figure out a plan to reopen when the time comes.

“Even if I open, am I still going to be able to survive,” said Wilcox.

She’s not alone. A report from the nonprofit Louisiana Policy Institute for Children shows a third of childcare centers in the state are in danger of not reopening and collectively losing millions of dollars in revenue.

“Child care is not like schools. Schools have an allotment of income that they get, that they’re allocated for,” said Sonnier-Netto.

Institute Executive Director Libbie Sonnier-Netto says childcare centers unable to reopen will only add to an existing problem of not having enough centers in the state to meet the need. 

Childcare centers that do reopen will face another challenge that could filter to parents. Maximum enrollment numbers are expected to be reduced. With new numbers, some parents could have a hard time finding placements.

A slow and steady reopen means federal and state guidelines will temporarily change how many kids can be supervised by one adult.

“Ratios are going to be much lower and it’s going to be much more expensive to supply care,” said Sonnier-Netto.

Sonnier-Netto says quality childcare in the state before the COVID-19 pandemic was about $12,000 per child, every year. With those increased costs, she puts that around $16,000, which could become too expensive for some.

“Honestly, it’s soul-crushing. Children need this service. Families, working families need this service of early care and education,” said Sonnier-Netto.

Thanks to some money from the state and federal levels Wilcox is still able to operate but doesn’t know how much longer she’ll last.

 “Every little person that walks through those doors need us to be there for them,” said Wilcox.

To read the report from the Louisiana Policy Institute for Children, click here.

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