Pennsylvania officials are carefully and methodically allocating hundreds of millions of dollars in CARES Act funding, including a vital announcement last week of $117 million to help day care centers survive. 

It is critical funding for organizations that are playing and will continue to play a critical role at a number of levels. It is our hope the state finds a way to funnel more money to these groups whenever possible amid the current climate. According to state Secretary of Human Services, the latest allocation is on top of $104 million previously earmarked for early child care centers.

Last week, a study out of Penn State reported 200 day care facilities in Pennsylvania had already shut doors without plans to reopen and another 1,000 have said they are on the financial ropes because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In an area like the Susquehanna Valley, where most slots at day cares across the region are already filled and waiting lists are commonplace, it could be even more of an issue.

One of the real concerns among providers is the first round of closures could be just the start. “It’s bad,” Diane Barber, executive director of the Pennsylvania Child Care Association, said. “That 200 may just be the tip of the iceberg. We know most providers don’t have a lot of money in the bank.”

According to the Penn State study, Pennsylvania has about 7,000 child care centers. About 85.5 percent closed their doors at least temporarily after the COVID outbreak.

These facilities represent freedom for parents to get back to work and offer invaluable educational opportunities for families.

“A strong child care industry is a requirement for a healthy economy,” Gov. Tom Wolf said when announcing the funding.

The issue, however, could have many longer-lasting impacts on the Valley. 

The academic, social and emotional skills taught in these locations cannot be underestimated. The potential loss of them on a regular basis could be devastating. Some Valley children spend up to 10 hours a day in these facilities, where they learn — or at least get a start on — self-control, creativity, some critical thinking skills and even empathy.

Doug Bertanzetti, executive director of SUMMIT Early Learning which operates five child care centers in the Valley, said many centers throughout the state remain closed due to COVID-19 and that will have negative repercussions.

“It’s going to have a huge impact years from now” if children can’t access these outlets, Bertanzetti, said.

Industry experts often report that every dollar invested in early child care leads to a return of as much as $7. When it comes to spending Pennsylvania’s portion of CARES Act funding, allocating it for early childhood education and programming is always a wise decision.

NOTE: Opinions expressed in The Daily Item’s editorials are the consensus of the publisher, top newsroom executives and community members of the editorial board. Today’s was written by Managing Editor Bill Bowman.

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