Childcare by the Numbers
December 5th, 2013
We loved our daycare in Pittsburgh. Loved it. The facility was fantastic and new, the teachers were loving and well-trained, and my kiddos were happy and thriving.
It cost an arm and a leg.
So much that our tax accountant actually called me while preparing our 2011 taxes because he was sure the number I had written down for childcare expenses couldn’t possibly be correct.
It was correct.
Thus I was initially overjoyed to discover that childcare in Kentucky costs waaaaay less than it did in the city. This huge cost difference is what has enabled me to work part-time down here, which has given our family a wonderful flexibility. I love that.
Unfortunately, I’ve learned that there’s a reason that childcare is much cheaper down here. It’s all about child to teacher ratio.
Each state gets to make its own decisions about how many children a single teacher can be expected to care for at various ages. State law in Kentucky mandates a far high child to teacher ratio in daycare facilities than the state of Pennsylvania does.
In Pennsylvania, infant rooms generally maintain a ratio of three babies to one caregiver. In Kentucky, it’s five babies to a teacher. In PA, a two-year-old room will have seven kids for every teacher. In KY, it’s ten kids to a teacher.
The math is easy, then. More kids per teacher means fewer staffing costs which leads to less expensive care.
But those ratios play a huge role in the quality of care that can be provided. It is really hard for one teacher to provide individualized care to five infants and it is nearly impossible for one teacher to offer structured activities and personalized engagement to ten two-year-olds.
Let me be clear: I admire the teachers in all the daycares I’ve visited down here (and I’ve visited quite a few). They are committed and caring and doing their best. The infant teachers when I started Little Bird in daycare were rock stars. But the numbers work against them and it can have an impact.
Buggie had a hard time transitioning to Montessori school. He’s still struggling to settle into the routine of the classroom. Some of this stems from his personality and intense boy-ness, but I also believe that some of the difficulty came from the fact that he was moving from a very unstructured environment to a very structured one. He wasn’t used to sitting still for things like circle time. He was used to free play all the time. It was chaos in his daycare room most days and it was hard for him to calm down from that.
For Little Bird, the numbers worked against her when it came to consistency of caregiver. In her daycare, the overarching goal seemed to be to keep as few teachers in the building as possible while maintaining ratios. So they’d shuttle the kids from one room to the next depending on which teachers had fewer kids at the moment.
I didn’t like it.
But I didn’t really have any other options, it seemed. I visited several other daycare in the area and ruled most of them out immediately when I saw rooms of one-year-olds parked in front of the TV. It should come as no surprise that that was a deal breaker.
Fortunately, there’s a happy ending to the story. I think. We found a church-based daycare that embraces the values that I do of limited screen time and lots of one-on-one care. They deliberately keep their ratios below the state mandated numbers (hooray) and I can see what a difference it makes.
The point to this long post – if there is one! – is that staffing ratios matter a lot. Once you get past the very basic evaluation of a potential daycare (is it clean, are they nice), staff ratio is one of the most important things to look at when finding a place for your kiddos.