Child care center latest COVID-19 casualty
Little Cardinals Academy in Cross Plains will close permanently on Nov. 27 citing financial hardships brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Among the business losses suffered so far during the COVID-19 pandemic, the loss of child care facilities particularly stings because abundant high-quality child care was already difficult to find prior to March for many working parents.
While the “need” for child care options might be reduced with more parents working from home, there’s a fear that once people start returning to the office, those child care options won’t return with them.
According to a July survey from the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), 86% of child care providers are serving fewer children now than they were before the pandemic, while 70% are incurring “substantial” new operating costs, which can include hiring additional staff to cover smaller classes, purchasing extra supplies, and contracting with sanitation companies to clean facilities nightly. A September report from Time magazine notes that across the industry, enrollment at child care facilities across the country has fallen by two-thirds. Additionally, 40% of child care programs surveyed by NAEYC — half of which are minority-owned — will permanently close without some sort of new infusion of cash from the federal government in the form of another round of CARES Act or Paycheck Protection Program funding.
Locally, the latest business victim of COVID-19 is The Little Cardinals Academy, a Cross Plains child care facility owned by Brenda Fritz, which will close for good on Friday, Nov. 27.
The academy supported the Middleton Cross Plains Area School District’s 4K program for the past three years in addition to taking care of children 6 weeks to 12 years of age.
“We are sorry to the families, children, and the school district, and we will miss the relationships we’ve built,” Fritz says.
The Little Cardinals Academy will work to transfer staff to The Academy of Little Vikings in Mount Horeb, which Fritz also owns, but she acknowledges some staff may be laid off.
“We are still committed to supporting early childhood education at The Academy of Little Vikings,” says Fritz. “I’ve always had a passion for helping children; that’s why I started The Academy of Little Vikings in 2015 and Little Cardinals Academy in 2017. I was proud to employ 20 at Little Cardinals Academy and 36 at The Academy of Little Vikings.”
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Fritz supported 205 children total between both facilities. But like other child care centers, Little Cardinals Academy had its share of challenges these past few months.
For a while, Fritz was able to keep things afloat at Little Cardinals Academy. With the health and safety of children, families, and staff being the top priority, Little Cardinals Academy followed all of the guidelines set by the CDC and the local public health department in implementing new procedures, including new pickup and drop-off procedures. Fortunately, Fritz says, she had buy-in from everyone — staff, parents, and children.
However, many parents who worked from home kept their children at home, even when the state reopened many sectors, Fritz explains. “The economic effects of COVID-19 were apparent. Our Cross Plains facility had more families reporting job losses than our Mt. Horeb location. These things directly contributed to the lower number of returning students.”
Fritz notes she and her staff tried everything they could to remain open, including seeking financial aid. However, in the end, it just was not financially feasible to continue operating. Between parents working from home and the economic effects of COVID-19, she says, it was the hard but right decision.
“We have been proud to support the Middleton Cross Plains Area School District’s 4K program for the past three years,” notes Fritz. “However, the challenges of the past few months made things unsustainable. Since the MCPASD district is completely virtual anyways, we requested our contract be canceled and they reassign students to other virtual 4K programs.
“This year has been extremely unique in many ways,” continues Fritz. “At the end of the day, I will always be a champion for 4K and preparing children for their lifelong journey in learning. With the school-aged children doing virtual learning in both centers, we had tremendous engagement in Mt. Horeb but Cross Plains didn’t have the same need for care.”
Community support is one of the greatest assets a child care center needs for long-term success, adds Fritz, and support not only in the form of supporting licensed child care, but also understanding the costs associated with a high-quality facility. “When communities fall short of supporting their local businesses, local businesses fall short as well.”
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