Early-learning centers facing shortage of qualified workers

ORNAGE COUNTY, Fla. — During the pandemic, many child care centers were cleared to stay open.

Many workers were deemed “essential” and thus remained on the job.

Now, as vaccines become more widespread, those same centers are seeing an unprecedented shortage of workers.

READ: Doctors “highly” recommend COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 12 and up

Dr. Mary Harper, with the Early Learning Coalition of Orange County, said the shortage of teachers is due to many of them leaving during the pandemic and not returning.

That means about 25% of the programs she monitors are on the verge of closing.

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“They have rooms that are empty because they don’t have the staff to fill them. They’ve got parents on a wait list,” Harper said.

Erin Ramos says she is lucky. The Winter Park preschool had room for her twins when she decided to return to the office.

READ: Florida reports 50 coronavirus-related deaths

Their daycare has just closed and they don’t know if they’re going to reopen, so searching for something new has been a challenge, Ramos said.

While Cares Act funds provided critical help, the allotment barely covered one month of staffing expenses.

As women make up a large portion of the economic workforce, Harper is concerned about the ripple effect.

READ: These Orange County communities have the highest, lowest COVID-19 vaccination rates

“We’re talking about families that need to be at work, businesses that are counting on them to be at work,” Harper said.

The coalition is now working on the state level to craft a campaign to attract people interested in filling those roles.

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Matt Reeser

Matt Reeser, WFTV.com

Matt Reeser joined WFTV in 1998 as a news photographer and has worked for television stations in Kentucky and West Virginia.