One of the casualties of the coronavirus pandemic is the way working families experience child care in Montana. That’s not entirely a bad thing. America’s child care economy is fundamentally broken, with the average child care worker able to qualify for food stamps in all 50 states.
Child Care Resources’ director recently estimated that about 30% of providers have closed statewide. This trend is the opposite of the home-based programs opening through MyVillage, the Bozeman-based startup I co-founded. March marked our biggest month yet in helping women educators start independent, high quality home-based programs across Montana and Colorado.
As the public sector invests funds in the child care sector, we need to prioritize creating new high-quality supply in the wake of child care center closures. According to a survey conducted March 31-April 4 by the Bipartisan Policy Center, 60% of all child care programs are fully closed, perhaps permanently. Demand for home-based options will grow as parents seek to limit potential exposure through controlled environments with small groups of children.
Most home-based programs are unable to survive two weeks without tuition payments, impacting working families and educators’ wellbeing. MyVillage raised an emergency COVID-19 Relief Fund from impact investors to guarantee our educators’ earnings and to assist parents with tuition assistance. But that’s a drop in the bucket when it comes to the home-based care sector overall.
The National Association for the Education of Young Children reported that child care programs around the country lost nearly 70% of their daily attendance in a single week during the pandemic. Most programs can’t even last a week without tuition. Of the child care programs that remain open, 28% are home-based programs. State and federal funding should focus here because it’s the future.
Working parents are juggling their job duties, homeschooling older children, and caring for young ones. Our new normal means more people will work from home, and more parents will seek out child care options in their neighborhoods that offer stability with a small number of children. New federal stimulus packages need to reflect the changing child care economy, support our workforce, and prioritize quick ways to build infrastructure supportive of home-based programs. The next stimulus legislation must also make it easier to start and operate a home-based business that meets essential needs.
MyVillage operates as a reluctant franchise because of our hands-on commitment to quality. There is no up-front franchise fee, since we franchise people’s living rooms, backyards, and kitchens so that they can offer thriving, exceptional home-based early childhood education in their own neighborhoods. Because we control the quality of the MyVillage experience, including helping educators get licensed, programs in our network must be franchises.
Current regulatory rules governing franchising make it difficult for motivated people to open and operate home-based child care businesses. Even though MyVillage makes no money until educators do, the bureaucratic red tape associated with starting a home-based child care program impedes the ability to grow new supply quickly.
As we reopen our economy and serve essential workers on the front lines of the pandemic, child care is crucial. Congress should call on the Federal Trade Commission to increase the amount of money earned by a franchisee in the first six months of business to make it easier to start independent, home-based child care programs, particularly for laid-off employees of large centers. I hope Montana’s delegation will take a hard look at this option.
By removing barriers to creating new child care businesses and getting stimulus funding into the hands of home-based educators, we can make it easier to care for the children of America’s working families.
Erica Mackey is the co-founder and CEO of MyVillage, a startup with more than 120 educators across Montana and Colorado, MyVillage helps people start and operate high quality, affordable home-based early education programs. Learn more at myvillage.com.