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Some daycares are still charging tuition. Here’s why.

Avondale Estates Business COVID-19 Decatur Food Kirkwood Metro ATL Tucker

Some daycares are still charging tuition. Here’s why.

College Heights Early Childhood Learning Center, South McDonough Street.
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By Zoe Seiler, contributor 

Decatur, GA – Many daycares have closed, and parents are transitioning to having their kids home during the coronavirus pandemic. Yet some parents are still paying daycare tuition.

The tuition for childcare ranges from daycare to daycare. Some centers are still charging full tuition and others are asking for a portion of tuition, but here’s why daycares are still asking for payments.

There are over 3,200 licensed child care centers in the state and a majority of them are independently owned small businesses, Ellen Reynolds, CEO of Georgia Child Care Association, said.

Childcare centers operate with a very thin profit margin and still have expenses such as rent, mortgage, utilities and paying their staff. Those fixed expenses still have to be paid even if the childcare centers are closed.

“At most, childcare center owners have maybe three to four weeks of reserves that they could use to pay their staff and their mortgage and their utilities for three to four weeks, but beyond that, the money’s not there,” Reynolds said.

Quality Care for Children, a nonprofit providing support to parents and childcare centers, conducted a survey with Georgia Early Education Alliance for Ready Students. They found that 49% of childcare learning centers and 55% of home-based, family child care providers said they would not be able to recover and reopen if they had to close for two weeks.

“Only 6% reported that they could last a month or more, so there’s a very real risk that many programs are going to close and not be able to reopen and when we have an economic recovery. Parents are going to be called back to work and they’re not going to have any place for their children to go,” Pam Tatum, president and CEO of Quality Care for Children, said.

Shannon SengStack, founder of the SoulShine daycare center, said in a statement, that owner-operated daycares are primarily funded with tuition provided by enrolled families.

“Daycares are charging varying amounts of tuition to keep staff and overhead paid to ensure that we can reopen at some unknown date in the future,” SengStack said.

SoulShine has closed and parents are voluntarily paying tuition during the pandemic. SoulShine also reduced tuition for families who are still paying.

“Of our original 260 plus enrolled families, 39% voluntarily offered to pay a reduced tuition of 65% to support SoulShine in covering costs. I attribute this tuition contribution to the beautiful community of SoulShine, and to the families who are investing in our whole community to ensure that we reopen, together,” SengStack said.

SoulShine still had to lay off 40% of their staff but planned for them to receive their last paycheck on April 15, SengStack said.

“Currently, we are grateful to have the savings to have retained the majority of our staff as we await federal assistance,” she said.

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City Schools of Decatur released a statement on April 1 to the families at College Heights and Frasier Center. CSD is looking at a number of factors and considering the needs of families as well as their staff.

The statement, from Superintendent David Dude, says the district has nearly $1.5 million of expenses for College Heights and Frasier Center through the end of the school year. The vast majority of that goes to paying the staff in those programs.

“Some of that is already subsidized by the CSD General Fund, but an absence of any future tuition this year would require the General Fund to subsidize almost $700,000 more in order to continue paying our staff,” Dude said.

CSD is strongly encouraging all families to continue paying tuition if they can do so. However, if families are unable to pay full tuition, they are encouraged to pay as much as they can afford. Families have the option to pay 75%, 50% or 25% of their normal payment, Dude said.

Childcare centers are also waiting to see if they will receive additional funding from the CARES Act, the federal stimulus package, or from other loans.

“There is the CARES Act and Quality Care for Children is helping programs apply for that funding. We’re also looking for another strategy to get funding to childcare programs but until the other funding comes, if it comes, childcare programs need a lifeline,” Tatum said. “They need parents who can afford to pay to continue paying.”

Childcare centers typically have business interruption insurance but that does not cover pandemics.

“It’s usually triggered by like a fire in the building or something like that, but it doesn’t cover a school closure because of a pandemic,” Reynolds said. “Their business interruption insurance is really related to an event in the building. So, there is no insurance for this.”

Both Reynolds and Tatum said that the childcare centers are not trying to benefit from this crisis or be greedy.

“They’re trying to make sure that there’s childcare that’s going to be there for you,” Reynolds said. “When you’re holding your spot by paying partial or all tuition, you’re trying to make sure that a spot will be there for your child, not just in that building but that childcare capacity will exist at all.”

Reynolds and Tatum also encouraged any parents who are struggling financially to talk to their childcare provider.

Parents are experiencing various situations right now especially when it comes to childcare. Some parents have posted complaints and concerns online about having to still pay for childcare but most parents who reached out to Decaturish are OK with paying their tuition.

Most of the parents who spoke to Decaturish acknowledged that they are fortunate to still have jobs and can work from home. They also understood that they are currently able to pay and said their reactions would be different if that were not the case.

Marcy Cornell sends her two children to Holy Trinity Parish Preschool and is still paying tuition.

“Obviously it’s not my favorite but Holy Trinity has been really wonderful, and the teachers are really wonderful and really caring so I feel like it’s sort of a turnabout as fair play,” she said. “They still post things on Facebook like storytimes and they do their show and tell remotely and things like that. So, we know they’re doing their best.”

She also said that Holy Trinity has a subscription to ABC Mouse and gave everybody access to it so the kids can do remote learning.

Holy Trinity has made paying tuition voluntary and parents don’t have to be concerned about losing their spot, Cornell said.

“They said that if you’re willing to continue to pay tuition, 100% of it will go to pay the teachers. They’re not keeping any of it for operating costs or anything. It’s all going directly to teacher salary,” she said.

“I know that it’s hard for everybody and we don’t have a ton extra either but I feel like if they’re willing to do that much for each other and for the teachers then if I can, I should,” Cornell added.

Jeremy Coppels said he is paying because he and his wife expect that SoulShine will reopen and they need them to reopen. He said it’s within his own incentive to keep paying. SoulShine is also asking parents to pay 65% of tuition if they can.

“Would I rather have that $1,000 or whatever a month? Sure, but I also like knowing that when we do get back to ‘normalcy’ that our teachers won’t be super stressed and they won’t feel like they’ve been left out in the cold,” he said.

He added that he wants the teachers to be able to focus on their jobs and not be overly stressed when the daycare does reopen.

“Now that I’ve had to deal with my kids for three straight weeks while doing other stuff, I’m very appreciative of what they have to do on a day-to-day basis,” Coppels said.

SoulShine plans to do a soft reopen on April 27 within the guidelines of the state Department of Early Care and Learning to provide smaller class sizes and have extra safety precautions ready, SoulShine spokesperson Rhiannon Apple said in an email.

Kristin Nabers sends one of her children to College Heights and her other child is part of the Animal Crackers program at Oakhurst Elementary. She is still paying in full for both programs. She said she is totally fine with that.

“They’ve been very open and transparent,” she said. “[They] need this money to pay [their] staff. It’s not like [they] need this money to go into our general fund for some unspecified future use. I feel like this money is being used to pay staff so I’m very comfortable paying.”

She added that the teachers are underpaid as it is, and she would hate for a shutdown to mean that staff have expenses they couldn’t pay.

“They love and take care of my kids every single afternoon,” she said. “They make it possible for my husband and I to work full time. So, I wanted to make sure that they were getting taken care of during this time that’s so terrible and tough for everyone.”

She also acknowledged that the situation would also be different if either or her husband lost their job and couldn’t pay their own bills.

“I feel like that’s a different situation but for those of us in Decatur who are privileged enough to have jobs that haven’t been financially impacted yet, I feel like it’s our responsibility to keep paying the people we normally pay and that includes our teachers and our aftercare providers,” she said.

Jared and Meredith Roman send their child to the daycare at First Baptist Decatur. They are currently paying half of the tuition as the church is helping the daycare during this time.

Jared said the teachers are going through training and doing daily Zoom calls with their classes, so parents are still getting some benefits from the daycare.

Meredith said that she appreciates that the daycare director is willing to work with families who are struggling to meet tuition and is working on a case by case basis.

“They understand the human side of this too,” Meredith said. “They don’t want to just throw the preschoolers out with the bathwater, I guess. I feel like they’re a really good positive example.”

She added that they don’t want to make anyone else’s life harder since they can continue to pay. She said that the school is being a good steward of the half-tuition with the opportunities provided to and by the teachers.

“I mean it is hard,” she said. “There’s definitely a selfish part of us that’s like oh man, we’re not paying for childcare, it would be great to have that income. At the same time, we get that this is hard for everybody and we don’t want to see more people hurt or damaged.”

Some parents are not as fortunate and cannot afford to pay for daycare while their children are at home or while they have to find other childcare.

Brandon Speers was also paying tuition up until this week. His family pulled their child out of SoulShine in order to be able to find one-on-one care during this time. But he said that paying tuition felt like the right thing to do at the time.

“For the first few weeks, you’re not sure what the reality of the situation is,” Speers said. “In the very beginning, you’re like is this going to be a couple of weeks, is it going to be two, four, is it going to be a couple of months?”

He said that in the beginning, they knew that the only way SoulShine would be able to pay their staff and rent and stay open as a business was if people were still paying tuition.

“We felt good about being able to support that business by continuing to pay tuition because we knew that meant that it would pay the teachers,” he said.

“It felt like the right thing to do. What helped is that after the first week, maybe after two weeks they did quickly adapt and try to come up with ways to cut costs,” he added.

Speers said that his family felt they needed to pull back, so they won’t incur those costs as he is personally facing uncertainty with his job security.

“It just feels like the inevitability that this will last for quite a while and even if they plan on reopening we likely won’t feel comfortable sending our son back for some time until we feel like it’s further along in the recovery,” Speers said. “It just didn’t feel like an expense we could carry for months when we need to likely find childcare, and that is not actual childcare that we can take advantage of.”

He added that it didn’t feel like it was going to be viable to pay for daycare and for a nanny or other one-to-one care.

“I feel like as best I can tell it hurts because SoulShine seems like they handled it as best as anybody could,” Speers said. “They were pretty thorough and quick about coming up with solutions and possibilities, cutting tuition and doing things that they can.”

One family who sends their children to Goddard School Decatur unenrolled their children from the center because they thought it unlikely that things would improve before June.

“We didn’t want to pay over $2,300 a month for tuition for two kids (plus another roughly $150 a month for lunch at daycare) for April and May when we knew we’d likely keep the kids out of school until June,” said the parent, who didn’t want to be identified.

The family is glad they unenrolled their children when they did because one of the parents is getting a 40% pay cut effective this week.

“With that cut to our income, we can no longer afford Goddard (plus City of Decatur property taxes) and will have to find a less expensive daycare when things get back to normal,” the parent said. “That’s assuming we both still have our jobs and I don’t also get a pay cut.”

That parent also said if one parent loses their job or both receive a pay cut, it’s unlikely they would be able to afford any kind of childcare and remain in the city of Decatur.

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