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On Monday, Sept. 13, Governor J.B. Pritzker announced a Child Care Workforce Bonus program to recognize the efforts of child care staff who served and continue to serve children and families in person during the pandemic. This bonus is funded by federal pandemic relief funds and will be administered through the Illinois Department of Human Services and Illinois Network of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies. The Child Care Workforce bonus will provide bonuses of up to $1,000 for eligible child care providers.
We just learned that part-day early childhood program staff are ineligible to receive this bonus simply because the program that they work for does not have a full-day license. Our staff worked tirelessly during the pandemic. Each staff member followed extensive protocols to keep the children safe. Each staff member put themselves at personal risk of contracting COVID-19 every day they came to school.
The part-day early childhood programs are still suffering the consequences of being disqualified from the Child Care Restoration Grants. The pandemic put a financial strain on all early childhood programs, not just full-day programs. All early childhood programs’ enrollment was restricted due to Illinois Department of Children and Family Services guidelines. All programs had an increase in spending to equip the centers with personal protective equipment to keep every child and staff member safe. We all had to add air purifiers and filters to our furnaces. While we had less tuition money coming in and more expenses, we still needed to pay our usual expenses including rent or mortgage, utilities and staff salaries. While full-day programs struggled during this time, many part-day programs closed or are teetering on the edge of closing. There is only so much money any child care program can put in reserves for a rainy day.
When the Governor announced that the state of Illinois would be giving bonuses to child care workers, we all assumed we would finally be included. After all, the only thing separating our programs from the full-day programs is a full-day license. During the pandemic many full-day programs operated less than eight hours a day.
This snub feels like the last straw. This snub feels personal. This money was for our hardworking staff at a time when many of us are losing staff due to low wages, little or no benefits and difficult working conditions.
Our staff heard Gov. Pritzker’s announcement on Sept. 13. Nowhere in this announcement did the Governor say that only some child care workers would be recognized for their sacrifice and commitment to families during the pandemic. What can we tell our hardworking staff … that they don’t matter? That their sacrifice doesn’t count?
As directors of part-day preschool programs, we are furious! Our staff does matter! Their sacrifice does matter! Our families needed their children to attend school just as much as the parents of children enrolled in full-day programs. Many parents worked from home. Many parents needed to be available to their school-aged children to help them access their remote learning. Attending our preschool program was the only sense of normalcy our families had during the pandemic. Making part-day early childhood programs ineligible for these bonuses sends a clear message to our staff. That message is that they do not count. They are not seen. Their sacrifices are not appreciated.
Debbie Boileve, Executive Director
Warren W. Cherry Preschool
Chrissy Cornell, Executive Director
School for Little Children
Tina Vanderwarker, Executive Director
Covenant Nursery School
Daryl-Lynn Johnson, Executive Director
Margaret Parcell, Executive Director
Northminster Nursery School
With full support of the Evanston Early Childhood Council