Low enrollment due to COVID-19 jeopardizes long term child care outlook in Idaho

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“It’s as essential as I am because I can’t do my job if they can’t do theirs,” she said. “We can’t function if our kids aren’t somewhere safe.”

Grim future for child care

About 263 child care programs in Idaho have temporarily shut down in response to COVID-19, displacing more than 8,300 children, according to the Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children. In the Magic Valley, 28 programs have shut down, affecting more than 400 children.

Idaho AEYC director Beth Oppenheimer said the statewide stay-home order from Gov. Brad Little means most parents now work from home or not at all, and many can watch their kids themselves — at least for now. Others have chosen to keep their kids home as a safety precaution.

Child care businesses, however, operate mostly on attendance fees alone. Fewer kids means significantly less money, putting in jeopardy businesses in an industry with already thin margins.

“It’s next to impossible for child care programs to continue their business with low enrollment,” Oppenheimer said. “There’s no other dollars coming in.”

Of 132 Idaho child care programs surveyed, 33% said they could not survive closing for more than two weeks without significant public support to help retain staff, pay rent and cover other fixed costs.

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