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Local educators meet with Senator Warner to highlight dire state of early childhood education

Sandra Redmore is the executive director of Clarendon Child Care Center at 1305 N. Jackson Street in Arlington, a local childcare facility. She works with the  Virginia Cooperative Preschool Council and the Arlington County Child Care Initiative working group. In 2019, she was awarded the Woman of Vision award by the Arlington Commission for the Status of Women.

She also cannot afford childcare for her own family.

Redmore’s story was one of a dozen similar stories of devotion to an early education field that many said is woefully underfunded despite high need. During a round table discussion today (Friday) at the Campagna Center (418 S Washington Street) with Senator Mark Warner (D) and Campagna Center CEO Tammy Mann, regional educators shared stories illustrating that they and many of their peers are at a breaking point.

There’s a growing acceptance that early childhood education can have a long-term benefit to mental development. Nicole Lazarte, infant lead teacher at the ACCA Child Development Center, said that at birth the brain is 20% developed and neglecting early childhood education misses critical parts of foundation building.

That recognition hasn’t been followed with federal financial support that Lazarte and others at the table said is critical for the field to continue operating effectively after the pandemic pushed new costs onto many already strained education centers.

“At 24 I don’t own a car, I don’t have my own home, and I’m already looking for ways out of this field,” Lazarte said. “I want to stay with the field, but I can’t continue like this. It’s so disheartening.”

Lazarte said teachers she knows are leaving early childhood development left and right, many of them taking jobs in K-12 public schools that are seen as a safer, more economically stable route.

“Our sector was on life support even before the pandemic,” Mann said.

During the discussion with educators, Warner said he recognized their concerns, but said for many in congress the emphasis for infrastructure is limited to roads.

“Republicans are [fund] to do roads and bridges, but it’s hard to get them to care about childcare,” Warner said.

Warner said infrastructure — as part of the necessary investment to return to something resembling a pre-pandemic workforce — requires workers to have options for childcare.

“I’ve been telling my colleagues: don’t just honor childcare workers, put your money where your mouth is,” Warner said.

But on the flip side, Warner also encouraged education advocates to not just seek funding at a federal level, but to press their state and local representatives. Warner said much of the federal resources have been allocated to state and local levels, and with that funding allocation being determined now, Warner said advocates should be working on their “ask” for the state and local legislators.

While Warner said he recognized many concerns about long-term funding for childcare facilities, he also encouraged them to take advantage of shorter-term grants and funding in the 2021-2022 budgets. From there, Warner said educators could use the short-term funding as a food in the door.

“I hear you that longtime funding is more important, but please don’t miss this short window,” Warner said. “Go to your cities and counties.”

Meanwhile, in Alexandria, Mann said the Campagna Center is preparing to move into its summer programming.

“We’re working hard and moving into summer and into our in-person opportunities,” Mann said. “We’re extending our school year program into summer for four year olds.”

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