Thirty-seven-year-old Tara Herbert entered a classroom at the Little Flowers Early Childhood and Development Center in West Baltimore, where she’s a teacher.
Five one-year-olds sat around a small table while a movie played nearby. Another teacher was spoon feeding one of the toddlers.
“Yeah, they all sleepy. It’s almost their lunch time,” Herbert said before turning to one of the children. “Whatcha doin’, Noah? Why’s your sleeve wet?”
Herbert’s been teaching here for three years, and she has six kids of her own. Her 1 year old is in the all-day childcare program, and her 4 year old is in the center’s new pre-kindergarten class. Some of her older kids come after school.
The tuition for her 1 year old is the most expensive, at $205 a week. Most of that’s covered by state childcare subsidy vouchers, but she has an $80 copay.
Still, the choice to send her kids to Little Flowers is easy.
“If I stay home and take care of them I — how am I going to take care of them if I’m not working?” she asked. “I don’t have a choice but to send them to childcare, to pay the copay.”
About 80 percent of the families who send their children to Little Flowers receive childcare vouchers, said Crystal Hardy-Flowers, the founder and director of Little Flowers. And that hurts her bottom line.
“Our tuition for an infant is $205, but the childcare subsidy only pays $187. So we just take the loss and we accept the childcare subsidy amount,” she said. “For our 2 year olds, it’s $141, but childcare subsidy only pays $112, so we take the loss and we just take the $112.”
The federal childcare subsidy program, administered by the states, is designed to help low-income families pay for childcare. Without that help, many parents — especially single parents — can’t afford to pay someone to watch their children while they go to work. But Maryland’s childcare subsidy has the lowest reimbursement rate in the country, forcing some families and childcare providers to make tough decisions.