Federal COVID-19 relief funding is providing K-12 schools with an influx of critically-needed cash, but millions of dollars are also providing support for early childhood education. Part of the funding will go toward a child care scholarship program for essential workers in the state.
The pandemic caused major disruptions for working families, with many withdrawing their children from child care as they stayed home.
But Maureen Weber, president and CEO of Early Learning Indiana, said federal funds are helping stabilize the industry as people go back to work in person.
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That includes a state-run scholarship program, providing scholarships to help cover costs of child care, summer learning, and before or after school programs for the children of essential workers in Indiana.
"The very best kind of stimulus that we can get is dollars that allows us to fully enroll families in our classrooms," Weber said.
The scholarships will cover up to 80 percent of tuition for children up to the age of 12. So far only about 1,000 have been claimed, but a total of 50,000 are available.
The federal funding is also helping providers make critical adjustments in an industry Weber calls "precarious" even in the best of times. Weber said providers are also looking to improve their capacity and efficiency in the long run.
"Our opportunity right now is to really leverage the availability of federal funds to focus on, what do we need to do for the future in this industry that's been in crisis for far too long," she said.
Weber said staffing remains a core issue for early learning providers to address, and COVID-19 relief funding is also going toward recruiting and training staff. The state is waiving background check fees, and offering $400 stipends for each new hire, as part of the Build, Learn, Grow initiative.