HOLLY HILL, Fla. – The Early Learning Coalition in Flagler and Volusia counties is seeing a major shortage of preschool and early learning teachers.
It’s to the point the educators estimate about 1,500 children are on waiting lists, stuck at home because there are just not enough teachers for the classes. The coalition is now working to find a solution.
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“I have 26 enrolled but not all the children are here because I don’t have teachers here,” said Annette Pelham, owner of Annette’s Tender Loving Daycare in Holly Hill.
Pelham said she has a waitlist and must turn away children that are already enrolled because she can’t hire teachers for them.
“We have a real problem because we can’t recruit teachers, and when we get them in sometimes this isn’t what they want to do. The wages aren’t what they’re expecting,” she said.
It’s a problem proving frustrating for parents, too.
Sandra Perez has a four-year-old son at home, has called dozens of places, and none can get him in.
“He’s currently at home with my mother. I was blessed enough to get a job and choosing to better myself unfortunately meant me having to find a school for him, which there’s no available spots for his age at the moment,” she said.
Perez said he turns five soon and she knows it’s going to have an effect on his kindergarten readiness.
“He should be starting to use reading words, simple three-letter words, writing his name, tracing his name, playing with manipulatives, socializing with other children and other people and he’s not doing any of those things,” she said.
The coalition’s CEO, DJ Lebo, said they were fully staffed before the pandemic but many left.
“Higher-paying jobs. They’ve chosen to leave the profession or not enter the profession,” she said.
To curb that, the coalition applied for an $895,370 grant to create incentives to hire over 100 teachers.
As long as the school agrees to pay a minimum of $12 an hour, the coalition will provide a $500 bonus and will pay for and provide all education and certifications needed for a teacher.
“And then it gets them free materials because as we see even in the public schools, teachers are often paying for their own materials,” said Lebo.
Lebo said this shortage will have lasting effects on the children out of school especially when they enter kindergarten without the skills from early learning.
“We are absolutely the foundation for public schools and children’s brains being built in those first five years is critical for the success of that child long term,” she said.
Those interested can apply just by going to the Early Learning Coalition website.