WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Getting back to work in the pandemic comes with many difficult choices for families, including their plan to cover the cost of child care.
Even though many providers have a lengthy waitlist, there could be more spots available in the near future.
The Early Learning Coalition of Palm Beach County is currently reporting about 600 students who are eligible for School Readiness child care funding are on the waitlist to attend a child care facility.
The coalition is reporting a drastic decline in the number of families who are waiting for a spot.
In September, more than 2,000 Palm Beach County students were on the list.
The shift is partially related to changes to the reimbursement policy for School Readiness providers.
During the pandemic, state leaders waived the number of absences allowed for parents to stay enrolled in the program.
Families were excused for all absences if they decided to keep their children at home due to COVID-19 concerns.
Even though child attendance requirements were relaxed, providers were still able to receive reimbursement.
However, the state is starting to reimplement the attendance policy in phases.
“It was difficult to know that we had spots that were vacant in the classrooms, but we couldn’t fill them because they were paid for and reserved by that program,” said Ali Eger, executive director of Opportunity Early Childhoon Education & Family Center in West Palm Beach.
Starting in October, reimbursement for providers was authorized for up to 16 absences per calendar month.
In November, the number of allowable absences dropped to 14.
As parents decide whether to keep their students enrolled, some child care facilities have been able to open more spaces to families on the waitlist.
However, there is a growing concern about the facilities that may not be able to fill vacancies right away and the additional strain that will place on operating costs.
“We know not everyone is coming back to school,” said Aruna Gilbert, chief program officer for the Early Learning Coalition of Palm Beach County.
Some child care facilities have said the guaranteed payment they received during the pandemic has helped with payroll and new expenses for PPE.
“That’s the thing we’re most concerned about,” said Gilbert. “We start worrying about if there’s going to be a depletion of teachers.
Reduced class sizes have also posed challenges for the center as they limit the student-teacher ratio to meet social distancing guidelines.
“If the classrooms aren’t filled, will providers have to make difficult decisions about staying open?”
School Readiness child care funding is available to eligible families to assist them in obtaining affordable, high-quality child care.
Children are eligible from birth through 12 years of age.
The School Readiness (SR) Program is state and federally funded and designed to offer child care financial assistance to low-income families who are working or full-time students.
The program prepares children to become ready for school, assists families in becoming financially self-sufficient, and provides parents with information about quality early learning and child development.
Families who are interested in applying for School Readiness child care funding can apply by clicking here.
For more information about the Early Learning Coalition of Palm Beach County or to learn about the resources available, call 561- 514-3300 to receive one-on-one assistance.