ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — About 50% of all stat- licensed child care programs in New Mexico have closed, some of them permanently, due to plummeting enrollment during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to officials with the New Mexico Child Care and Education Association.
“Despite the key role child care providers are playing in support of other essential industries during the COVID 19 crisis, the child care system as a whole is at risk of collapse due to the economic impact,” said Angela Garcia, president of the NMCCEA. The association is the lobbying, training and advocacy organization representing the state’s child care providers. “Child care is based on tuition, so when enrollment is down, the revenue is down.”
And with half as many child care spaces available, when businesses do eventually reopen, parents will have fewer programs available for their children, and that will likely affect the economic recovery, she said.
About 13,900 people work in the child care industry in New Mexico.
Child care programs that remain open during the pandemic face additional expenses, such as the cost of labor and products for regular disinfecting and sanitizing, the cost of personal protective equipment, and the cost of adhering to safety regulations that limit class size, and the expense of keeping children assigned to the same teachers and not allowing smaller classes to be combined, Garcia said.
Factors contributing to shrinking enrollments include parents sheltering their children at home out of fear they may be exposed to the coronavirus in a child care setting, parents working out of their homes and having no need for child care and parents who have lost jobs and can no longer afford child care.
Before the pandemic, there were 740 child care centers, 232 child care homes and 106 school-age programs licensed in the state. They collectively provided 65,692 child care spaces, said NMCCEA Treasurer Crystal Tapia.
“At least half of those spaces are in the Albuquerque area, where the majority of providers are located,” she said.
The pandemic has reduced the number of spaces to fewer than 32,850 statewide.
Among those enrolled in child care programs prior to the pandemic, 21,000 received child care assistance monthly through the state.
The count of closures and available spaces was based on a survey conducted by the state Early Childhood and Education Department of licensed child care providers, Garcia said.
Members of the NMCCEA also point to Albuquerque’s free full-day youth programs as a contributor to providers’ troubles.
The city is offering the programming to kids in kindergarten through eighth grade at a host of community centers.
With the Albuquerque Public Schools announcement that it will continue remote learning through December, Albuquerque’s programs will include those that support APS distance learning. The Parks and Recreation Department and the Cultural Services Department will also provide a variety of before, during, and after school programming. The programs will be held Monday through Friday, 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., at 21 community centers and two multigenerational centers. In collaboration with APS, breakfast and lunch will be provided for the participants.
The programs will serve about 1,800 children. Registration is currently open at yc.cabq.gov.
Folks who operate child care programs don’t see the free programs as good news, noting that they could accommodate many of these school-age kids.
“We’re in jeopardy right now, and the city is opening up programs and is undercutting us in a sense. I can’t compete with free,” said Gabrielle Wheeler, an NMCCEA board member and director of the East Gate Kids Learning Center.
She suggests the city redirect some of its funding to existing child care businesses.
“They’re offering a short-term fix that will have long-term consequences with the closure of child care programs and the loss of jobs, and the loss of infant, toddler and after-school spaces,” Wheeler said.
City officials defended the free programs, saying they simply expand what the city already offers. The city has provided regular youth programming at community centers for more than 30 years, “so we already had the infrastructure and the expertise to expand the hours with our staff,” said Carol Pierce, director of the Albuquerque Family and Community Services Department.
The money to provide the programs in the community centers is coming from the city’s general fund, she said. Many of the people who will staff the programs are already on the city’s payroll to run playground recreation programs in APS schools. Others are current staff in the community centers. Pierce put staffing costs at about $2.6 million and said she did not anticipate the need to hire additional personnel.
“Each child care facility, private or not, is capped by the State Health Order for occupancy and student ratios, so space is limited all across our city. … We have encouraged parents to visit newmexicokids.org to find resources that work best for their families,” Pierce said.