PARKER, Colo. — At the Meadows Early Learning Center in Parker, things are a little different these days.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the daycare to cut down on class sizes, significantly ramp up cleaning procedures and eliminate many of the fun activities the children look forward to.
Many of the toys the children play with are bagged up and out of reach — resting on the highest shelves of the classroom, since they cannot be sanitized safely, and state rules prohibit them. Still, daily life in the classrooms continue; masked up teachers use their voices rather than their facial expressions to try to keep children engaged during activities like reading time.
On the other side of the classroom, another child care provider gloves up and prepares lunch for the class.
If there’s one thing the pandemic has proven, it’s the role schools and child care centers play in keeping the wheels of the economy rolling and keeping parents in the workforce.
“The entire basis of our economy relies on our children being taken care of and having somewhere to go so that their parents can earn an income,” said Katie McDonald, the owner of Meadows Early Learning Center.
Like many daycares, the pandemic has taken a toll. Along with trying to navigate through new state safety rules for safety, McDonald is also dealing with declining enrollment and increasing expenses.
With the fears of COVID-19 spreading, many families are choosing to keep their children home. For the first time in years, there is not a waiting list for families, and the infant care class has open slots at the child care center.
“We spent over $24,000 on janitorial supplies, on gloves, bleach, Lysol wipes, etc.,” McDonald said.
Smaller class size requirements to allow for social distancing has also increased the center’s payroll by about 40%.
“It’s a day-to-day struggle. We were in an amazing place at the end of 2019 where we were talking about expanding and looking at buying two more buildings,” McDonald said. “We are down about $123,000 in revenue from last year.”
The center was fortunate enough to receive money from the first round of PPP loans from the federal government. However, that funding did not cover all of their losses, and the money went quickly, so the center is also in the middle of applying for the second round of loans.
“We are all struggling, and we are all trying to hold on the best we can, but without some sort of intervention, we are not going to be able to hold on much longer,” McDonald said. “To be 100% honest, if we don’t get this type of help, I’m going to sell my house. I will do what I have to do to keep my staff employed, to keep these children in care.”
Miss Carrie’s Child Center in Arvada has a similar story on a smaller scale. Carrie Kennedy has run a licensed daycare out of her home for nearly 20 years caring for 10 children.
When the pandemic came in March, Kennedy closed down her facility for about a week, and then families started keeping their kids home. Kennedy decreased tuition and worked with the families that were also struggling, but making ends meet was difficult.
“I spent 20 years building my business, and it’s amazing to see how fast it can unravel,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy was able to receive a PPP loan, but, like many businesses, she’s one bad break away from losing everything she’s worked to build.
In an effort to help, Colorado lawmakers passed a bipartisan bill over the special session to provide $45 million in funding to child care centers.
Of that funding, $35 million will go to a Child Care Sustainability Grant Program to offer one-time money for centers to survive. The funding will range from $500 to $35,000, depending on their license capacities.
Bill co-sponsors estimate that around 2,600 child care centers will be able to receive funding through this program.
“Right now, 10% of our providers have already closed their doors because of the pandemic, and 40% are at risk of closing their doors,” Sen. Brittany Pettersen said.
This year, Pettersen has learned for herself about the importance of childcare. Petterson enrolled her baby in daycare for the first time in October.
Over the course of the pandemic women have stepped out of the work force at a higher rate than men in order to care for their children.
“I would not be able to do my job without my child care provider, and so when I think about what parents are going through across the state, it’s devastating to think about the impact it has on their personal lives, on their current professional lives and what that means for Colorado,” Pettersen said.
Pettersen believes women in particular will benefit from these grant programs.
The other $10 million from the grant funding will go to the Emerging and Expanding Child Care Grant Program where provides will be eligible for a one-time payment of $3,000-$50,000 to start up or expand their child care programs in order to accommodate more families.
However, Pettersen said there’s still more work to be done. She’d like to see more help offered to families to be able to afford to keep their kids in child care.
McDonald is one of many who applied for funding from the state grant program. She said she still has a lot of questions about when the money will come, whether they will see any of it and how much they will be given.
“In my mind, it’s not money that I can rely on at this point in time until I know how much I’m going to get and until I see it in my bank account,” McDonald said.
For now, she’s just trying to hold on, hoping help will come soon. According to the Colorado Office of Early Childhood, which is responsible for paying out the funds, providers that completed the process early can expect to receive the funding starting next week.
The remaining child care centers will see their grant money by the end of February. OEC said to date 4,089 child care providers were deemed eligible for the grant money.
“This grant is going to give me small peace of mind that if I have to close down because somebody brings in COVID or I get COVID that I’ll be able to reopen” Kennedy said.