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Parents, staff protest child care center closings

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Saying the all-day services have proven to be a saving grace for working parents who can’t afford quality, private child care and for teen mothers struggling to stay in school, dozens of clients and staff members in May spoke out against a District plan to phase out its 45 Comprehensive Early Learning Centers.

As some parents and staff picketed outside the School Administration building, others pleaded in emotional testimony to the School Reform Commission to vote down a District proposal to suspend a section of the school code that prohibits closing of the centers.

“We believe Comprehensive Early Learning Centers are a winner,” said Sharon Ward, director of child care policy for Philadelphia Citizens for Children and Youth. Pointing to studies documenting the effectiveness of these services, Ward added, “The School District operates the finest early child care in the city.”

Vallas stated that the centers, serving 1,400 children, are costing $19,000 per child and that centers are losing children to private providers. The District seeks to get out of the expensive infant and toddler business, while expanding its school-day services to three- and four-year-olds, which would allow it to provide services to an additional 2,000 children, Vallas said.

Vallas said its replacement program, called Bright Futures, was modeled after the Head Start program. It will serve 3,400 children, employ certified staff, and contain a parenting component.

The 200 or so infants and toddlers now served will be directed to private providers, with reimbursement from the state, Vallas said. About 200 employees will be displaced by the closings.

What the Bright Futures program won’t do, affected parents argued, is open at 6:30 a.m. and stay open until 6 p.m., extended hours that allow parents a schedule that accommodates both work and school.

Before voting on the phase-out, the School Reform Commission sought more information on the impact of the shorter hours, as well as on the locations of the District’s current and planned centers.

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