LAKELAND, Fla. - Polk County preschools and daycare centers desperately need employees in the wake of COVID-19.
"The crisis is major," Belinda Kramer, spokesperson for the Early Learning Coalition of Polk County, told FOX 13.
A number of Polk preschools and daycare centers have closed. Others are on the brink and threatening to close if things don’t change soon.
When the pandemic hit last year, parents began working remotely and teaching their children at home. As the number of kids dropped in class, daycare centers and preschools laid off employees.
Now that parents are going back to work, centers are getting their little ones back. But there is not enough manpower to care for the kids.
Right now, there are at least 200 open positions in Polk County alone.
Karina Sloan, who owns three preschools, needs to fill 11 empty slots. So far, her hunt has not been very fruitful.
"A lot of people have actually said, ’I would rather stay home,’" Sloan said. "’I am going to be making more money with all the benefits.’"
That’s probably not that hard to do.
"The unfortunate situation is in early childhood education, they’re paid in the lowest five percent of the national salary scale," said Dr. Marc Hutek, executive director of the Early Learning Coalition of Polk County.
ELC just got $4-million from the federal government which it plans to hand out to 900 local centers. The money will hopefully help them stay financially afloat a little longer, and give them the ability to raise salaries to entice people to take jobs with them.
Hutek says it is a step in the right direction, but not a panacea.
"That might be enough to help them with a little bit of relief right now," he conceded.
Along with filling full-time positions, ELC is looking for responsible high school students who want a summer job.
LINK: For more information, visit www.elcpolk.org