By Jill Penley
Across Tennessee, there are more than 181,400 working parents with children under age five, resulting in the need for childcare to support employment and career advancement.
Access to high-quality, affordable childcare is an important aspect of a family’s economic security, not to mention the positive aspect of early childhood development. While families across the nation are facing barriers to finding and paying for quality childcare, rural areas like Johnson County are hit the hardest.
The issue came to the forefront a few months back when Tennessee Governor Bill Lee made a quick stop in Mountain City as local resident and mom, Sally Snyder, pressed the governor about what was being done to assist the state’s working parents with affordable daycare options.
“We are in desperate need of affordable daycare in our county,” Snyder told the governor. “We need immediate assistance. I am representing approximately 40 families that couldn’t be here today because we work for a living,”
A quick internet search of local child care facilities proves the plight of local working parents as only two child care centers are listed for Mountain City.
Snyder went on to say, “Without the local school system providing Pre-K, Head Start and after-school childcare, what are working parents supposed to do?” Snyder asked.
According to Lorie Plank, Johnson County Schools’ Supervisor of Head Start and Pre-K, the after-school programs at Mountain City and Roan Creek Elementary serve approximately 90 students between the two schools. “Our Head Start and Pre-K classrooms are currently serving 78 four-year-olds and 42 three-year-olds,” said Plank, who explained there is a waiting list for these programs. “Head Start funds 80 slots and Pre-K funds 40 slots so that we can serve 120 students in Johnson County.”
Snyder is still waiting to see what type of assistance, if any, will be offered to local working parents. “I am so disappointed,” she said, who recalls Gov Lee promised the matter would be promptly addressed. “Here we are, three months after my conversation with the governor,” said Snyder, “with no legislation in place that I’ve been made aware of, and nothing has been accomplished at all.”
She relates it is hard not to become discouraged by the lack of action on behalf of state legislators. “Parents of young children below the age of five are scrounging to get on the Pre-K, and Head Start lists at Johnson County Schools to see if they are eligible,” said Snyder, “and some are begging family members and friends to help care for their children so they can work.”
Snyder’s suggestion to help alleviate the lack of childcare involves creating a type of waiver, which parents could sign acknowledging they are aware their child is staying at a home not up to state codes. “In my opinion, the rules put in place for in-home daycare and licensed daycare centers are prime examples of government overreach,” said Snyder. “If our state government doesn’t see fit to change the laws to help alleviate Johnson County’s urgent need for more daycare options, then the state of Tennessee needs to be allocating grants for rural areas like ours to open more daycare facilities.”
Studies show when families do not have access to childcare, it creates a ripple effect. Work opportunities are undermined, household incomes are lower; there is a decrease in workplace productivity falls, and spending is curtailed, which means local business and tax revenues suffer.
According to a new report produced from a survey of 2,330, Tennessee families with children under age five and conducted in June and July, which examined the economic consequences of having insufficient and sometimes inadequate childcare in Tennessee. The study, led by the Tennesseans for Quality Early Education policy coalition, suggests Tennessee forfeits $1.34 billion annually in lost earnings and revenue due to continuing childcare woes.
“For a state concerned with workforce and workforce development, it is important for us all to understand how this is affecting workforce productivity and our economy,” said Blair Taylor, president of Memphis Tomorrow and chair of Tennesseans for Quality Early Education.
The call is for collaborative action by state government and Tennessee’s business sector to create a “system overhaul” and “crack the code
on great childcare,” Taylor said.