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Here's how child care centers are fighting to stay open amid inflation and staff shortages

Child care centers nationwide have had to raise wages for staff to handle high gas prices, in turn, raise tuition and bargain shop for school supplies.

WOODSTOCK, Ga. — The Bells Ferry Learning Center in Woodstock has managed to stay busy. Its door swings open every few minutes, and parents walk in dropping off their child, or stay for some free food.

That meal, is just one of many ways the child care center has tried to help its parents with soaring costs across the board.

The learning center, just like many other child care centers across the nation, is experiencing inflation in all different directions: from high gas prices for its staff to pricier school supplies.

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Georgia Lottery Funded Pre-K Teacher Laura Thompson is an expert when it comes to school supply bargain shopping. She even has a blog about it. She's in charge of buying materials at the center for kindergarteners.

"What I’ve realized going out to the stores, the prices of things have almost doubled," Thompson said. "Kindergarten they ask for specific pencils that are $6 a box. I mean can you believe that? Paying $6 a box for pencils. It’s hitting us in the pocket, absolutely."

Doors at the learning center, which serves children six weeks up until 12 years old, have remained open, in part thanks to the changes happening inside.

“What we’re having to do is really bargain shop: hit those back to school sales," Thompson said.

From shopping smarter, to raising wages, not only are child care centers fighting inflation, they have to fight staff shortages at the same time.

"Inflation has affected our staffing. Personally I live 5 miles away so the price of gas hasn’t really affected me that much in getting back and forth to work but we do have teachers who live in Cumming, we do have teachers that live in Dallas, Paulding County, 30-45 minutes or over an hour to get to us every day so I know they’re hurting the most," she added.

Payroll at the child care center has gone up nearly 8% to help staff deal with soaring gas prices, totaling to $3,500 extra a month.

As a result, the learning center which serves several demographics, including many low-income families, has had to raise its tuition.

“It’s affecting our parents, our students, and our employees," she said. 

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It’s a similar story nationwide. A study found that last year, nearly 16,000 child care centers closed from December 2019 through March 2021 because of many of these factors. 

To help you fight soaring prices, Thompson has some advice: do most of back to school shopping after the school year starts, and always check for coupons online.

"I do recommend when Target, Walmart, Office Max, when they open those composition notebooks for 50 cents go out and buy them, or the packs of glue sticks for 50 cents, go out and buy them. But when it comes to backpacks, I got all of our summer transition program kids their backpacks for 90% off around September and October. I start shopping [those months], paying up to 90% off retail for these school supplies."

Thompson also credits the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning for having initiatives that have helped stuff. She said the agency gave child care workers $2,000 bonuses and $200 to spend in classroom materials.

The Bells Ferry Learning Center has additional locations in Marietta and Cartersville. It is currently hiring teachers and accepting more families.

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