YORK, Pa. (WHTM) — The York County Community Foundation (YCCF) accepted a $300,000 grant from The Heinz Endowments to support the York County Early Childhood Educator Awards Program.

The York County Early Childhood Educator Awards works to address the issue of attracting and retaining qualified childcare staff. They help teachers monetarily and give teachers the tools to provide quality early learning, as well as grow professionally.

“We are excited that The Heinz Endowments is supporting the York County Early Childhood Educator Award Program, and considering it for replication in Allegheny County,” stated Jane M. Conover, MSW, President and CEO of YCCF. “In 1999, YCCF and The Heinz Endowments partnered to improve early childhood education in York County by supporting a county-wide plan to improve access, quality, and affordability of childcare.  We are thrilled to come together again with the Endowments on our common goal of expanding quality early learning opportunities so children can be prepared to succeed in school.” 

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Local members of the Pennsylvania Early Learning Investment Commission (ELIC) initiated the York County Educator Awards program after a similar program was discontinued. This program helps make financial award available to early learning centers based on their Keystone STARS certification level and the education attainment of their staff.

The goal is to have enough quality childcare spots to meet the needs of York County employees who have children.

Skilled childcare workers are provided with financial incentives to help them comfortably stay in their jobs and advance their education.

The program was paid for through a combination of public and private funding in the first year, including YCCF, several local foundations and individuals, and the York County Board of Commissioners. Funding is planned to expand in the future.

York County’s 2020 Economic Action Plan identified the faults in the childcare systems, such as maintaining quality workers and affordable childcare. Today employers still struggle to hire staff.

The wages for childcare workers are extremely low, averaging at $10 an hour. This is in part because childcare centers can’t raise their pay or it will raise prices for families enrolling their children.

The York County Community Foundation is working to help lower income people achieve financial security, and help parents sustain employment.

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On Wednesday, September 21 at 8 a.m. the YCCF is hosting an online conversation around early childhood education as part of their Together We Thrive series. You can register to attend here.

“While progress has been made, too many of our young children do not have access to high-quality facilities which has an impact on our workforce both today and in the future.  Attracting and retaining quality teachers is key to providing our young children with safe, enriching early learning programs.  Furthermore, by providing reliable care for the children of working parents we decrease turnover and boost on-the-job productivity,” said Peter Brubaker, one of six local members of EILC.