Charlotte families pay, on average, about $10,670 per year for childcare – roughly $1,000 more than the national average. Nannies, daycares, childhood development centers and preschools are in high demand, making affordability and availability a challenge.
For some families, early childcare costs outpace their rent/mortgage costs and influence a parent’s decision to stay at home with their children.
State and federal funds are available to assist, but one Charlotte church decided it could do more to help working families put their children in a high-quality early-childhood development program.
In early November, Covenant Presbyterian Church in Dilworth will open a child development center that will provide age-appropriate education for children across socioeconomic classes and racial/ethnic groups.
The church is looking for families with financial need to fill the remaining spots.
“A few years ago when Charlotte was ranked last in the top 50 cities for upward mobility, Covenant Presby knew we had to do something,” says Helen Richards, chairperson of the Covenant Presbyterian Church Child Development Center Advisory Council.
Studies from several organizations over the past five years, including one from the faith-based FORCLT, made it clear that that lack of affordable housing and early-childhood education contributed to keeping poor people in poverty throughout their lives.
“Children who receive an early childhood education earn $2,000 more a month as adults, are more likely to go to college, are less likely to get in trouble with the law, and less likely to repeat a grade,” Richards says.
Monthly tuition at Covenant Presbyterian Church Child Development Center is $1,400 a month for infants, $1,325 for toddlers, $1,250 for 2-year-olds, $1,150 for 3-year-olds, and $1,150 for 4-year-olds.
The school will have an enrollment of 88 children, and 25 percent of them (22) are reserved for children of parents who need financial assistance.
If childcare costs represent 10 percent or more of a household’s income, a child may qualify. Depending on need, the family can get 10 to 40 percent of the costs covered by an endowed scholarship provided by Covenant Presbyterian Church.
Anyone can apply. There’s already a waitlist for the full-tuition slots, but there are still openings for those who qualify for aid.
The center will operate from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Friday at the church’s campus on Morehead near Uptown.
While many people see diversity as a “feel-good” goal, Covenant references research that shows that diversity and inclusion helps everyone by encouraging racial integration that follows them into adulthood.
The center reached out to different organizations that serve a variety of people.
“We know that the Latino population is drastically underrepresented (in early childhood education) so it is important we strive to find those students,” Chris Callaway, the church’s new Director of the Child Development Center says. “We also incorporate Spanish language content and STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) into our curriculum.”
Achieving big goals like city-wide high-quality affordable early childhood education often seems impossible, particularly in a city like Charlotte with dramatic income inequality.
“Our hope is that another church sees this and wants to get involved,” Richards said. In a city where three quarters of residents see themselves as religious, it isn’t an unfounded hope.