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Teacher shortages leading to fewer children in child care in Connecticut

Elias Rosario
American View Productions
The Alliance for Community Empowerment in Bridgeport, which operates the Charles Tisdale Early Learning Center (above), says 18 of the nonprofit’s 63 classrooms are closed due to teacher vacancies.

Teacher shortages at child care centers across Connecticut have led to fewer children attending those centers, a recent report by the Connecticut Association for Human Services shows.

Public and private child care centers statewide are caring for an estimated 24,000 fewer children than they were when the pandemic began in 2020.

Monette Ferguson, executive director of Alliance for Community Empowerment based in Bridgeport.
Elias Rosario
American View Productions
Monette Ferguson, executive director of the Alliance for Community Empowerment

Monette Ferguson, executive director of the Alliance for Community Empowerment in Bridgeport, said the findings did not come as a surprise. The nonprofit organization provides early childhood education and has endured several ups and downs in the last two years, including classroom closures and a high turnover of staff.

“When I hire one new person, I lose two people,” said Ferguson. “The turnover is high because people leave for better pay; the competition is fierce. Other businesses can raise their salaries, but we just can’t do that.”

Eighteen of the nonprofit’s 63 classrooms across four sites are closed because there are no teachers to fill the positions, Ferguson said. “That’s my barrier,” she said. “I have a waiting list of kids who need child care, but I can’t open my classrooms without staff. That’s the only reason why I can’t open them.”

The CT Mirror reported that the General Assembly approved more than $100 million in funding for the child care sector during the last legislative session. But a survey cited in the report found that the state funding, federal relief aid and income from tuition fees can't keep up with operational costs.

“That’s how far behind we are in taking care of our early childhood infrastructure,” said Liz Fraser, policy director at the Connecticut Association for Human Services and lead author of the report.

The crisis was exacerbated by mental health concerns among teachers during the peak pandemic stages, and the report states that several providers experienced low morale and burnout. The teachers also felt disrespected as professionals.

Ferguson said she understood why people choose to leave.

“You have to think about the social and emotional wellness around it,” said Ferguson. “And also being with children. How many of those layers can you stack against a workforce and expect folks to bounce back and rush right back in? Then compound that with being underpaid and overworked, and quite frankly, devalued by the educational system as just a babysitter.”

When it comes to staffing, Ferguson said federal funds enabled short-term hiring incentives such as sign-on bonuses – but that is inadequate for retaining skilled workers in the industry.

“Mental health wellness has to be a part of the package,” said Ferguson. “We really have to think about how we uplift our folks. Like early childhood education, it’s so important to have people who want to be in it because without it, we won’t have an economy.”

Catherine is the Host of Connecticut Public’s morning talk show and podcast, Where We Live. Catherine and the WWL team focus on going beyond the headlines to bring in meaningful conversations that put Connecticut in context.
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