Child care providers from across the state gathered in Indianapolis on Thursday to discuss how best to use a massive influx of pandemic relief funding aimed at early childhood education.
Staffing problems and capacity needs remain top of mind for many of them.
According to Early Learning Indiana, more than $1 billion in federal COVID-19 relief is coming to Indiana specifically for child care – an amount providers likely won't see again.
Adrienne Johnson owns a child care center in Indianapolis. She said her vision is to expand; she's considering buying the plaza space surrounding her center.
"It is for sale, so I'm like, this is a prime opportunity for us to buy the whole thing – there's no reason that we can't," Johnson said.
Johnson and others at the event said they want to use one-time funding to provide bonuses and higher pay, train existing staff, or grow capacity to generate revenue and serve more families.
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Some providers said they hope to leverage more partnerships with nearby colleges or universities – or other providers – to help manage staffing.
But the challenge is finding qualified people to hire – and keeping them on the job. That's why several said marketing and advocacy is also critical to sustain the benefits of one-time funds.
Maureen Weber is CEO and president of Early Learning Indiana, which organized the event. The nonprofit is rolling out an online hub next month to help connect families with providers more easily, but she said the state's largest opportunity is to build up the field's workforce.
Weber said Indiana has focused largely on getting Hoosiers into high-paying, high-demand careers, but high-quality early learning opportunities also provide lifelong benefits for children and families.
"We know investments here will pay dividends – not just for our existing workforce and the parents we're serving right now, but for the next generation as well," she said.
Weber said it's a top priority to elicit support at all levels of government for the development of the early childhood education workforce.