The State of Childcare, PreK, and K-12 Education and How Facilities Management Can Help

When it comes to childcare and education in the United States, what comes to mind? Dollar signs? A shortage of teachers and caretakers? Parent frustration?

All these are valid concerns, and the issues are incredibly complex. What doesn’t come to mind, however, is how facility management can help.

The childcare challenges experienced by daycare centers, Pre-K, and K-12 in private and public schools are very similar. There is a teacher and caregiver shortage, cost inflation for staff and services, a persistent shortage of affordable options for families, and a lack of understanding of what administrators and teachers deal with daily.  

There are about 100,000 fewer education workers than before the pandemic, with many leaving the industry altogether for better wages and benefits. The media has blasted stories of educators leaving the field for retail jobs at places like Target, Amazon, and Walmart.

And a lack of childcare workers and teachers translates into a lack of available options and opportunities for many families, with parents dealing with long waiting lists and disappointment.

When it comes to Pre-K and childcare, many families are being forced to choose between working and childcare. For many, this is an impossible choice.  

91 percent of childcare facilities are suffering from staffing shortages, according to a recent poll by the National Associations for the Education of Young Children in the USA, and of those, nearly half said they were caring for fewer children than they would like because of it.

The staffing shortage is still affecting even the most well-paying education businesses. It also affects private and charter schools, as teacher churn is a main issue.

Some states saw a clear jump in the share of teachers leaving teaching positions between the 2021-22 and 2022-23 school years. The numbers are trending toward a repeat in the 2023-24 school year.

What’s more, federal data show that charter school teachers leave their jobs at higher rates than at public schools due to working conditions.

The Inability to Hire, Retain and Develop Qualified Staff Impacts Our Nation’s Children

A recent study, conducted at Rutgers University links early learning and development with teacher qualifications. Specifically, the study found that three- and four-year-old's learn the most—socially, emotionally, and cognitively—when their teachers have four-year degrees and have specialized in early childhood education (ECE).

In addition to hiring and retaining staff, private schools face several challenges in funding teacher training and development programs. These programs can be expensive to put in place, especially when they involve new technology or cutting-edge equipment.

Additionally, the ongoing costs associated with these programs can be prohibitive, especially at smaller private schools where budgets are often tight.

Another Challenge Facing Childcare Centers and Private Schools: Rising Costs and Higher Tuition

The child care or Pre-K education industry was worth $60.8 billion in 2022, built on decades of growth. However, this hasn’t always translated into big profits for business owners. There are high overheads and slender profit margins, which are getting smaller as staff are requiring higher pay and better working conditions.

As a result, tuition is increasing. A recent report by the organization ChildCare Aware of America found that childcare costs are outpacing inflation by more than 3%.

At the same time, families’ wallets are being squeezed by higher costs for everyday expenses like groceries, gas, and housing.

Private and charter schools must also provide high-quality facilities, technology, and instruction to attract and retain students, but these costs can quickly increase, leading to higher tuition.

Tuition at private schools has increased at roughly twice the inflation over the last 30 years. Many parents hesitate to send their kids to a private school, especially if they feel they are not getting the desired and promised experience.

As a bookend to rising costs, the economic downturn and significant drop in stock values have decreased families’ discretionary income. At the same time, endowment levels maintained by private schools often reduce the level of scholarships that can be provided at a time when families need them the most.

In fact, during the 2022–23 school year, more private schools reported a decrease (21%) vs. an increase (18%) in returning students.

The most significant challenge is increasing competition

Private schools are facing more competition than ever before. While new enrollment has risen recently, the number of students enrolled in private schools has fallen over the past two decades.

According to data from the National Center for Education Statistics, nearly 5 million fewer students enrolled in private schools in 2018 than in 2000. This decline is due to several factors. It includes changing demographics and increased competition from charter schools, magnet schools, and online learning options.

Public schools have also become more competitive with private schools as they improve their facilities and offer more after-school activities that appeal to parents.

The competition amongst private schools has become intense as more new players enter the market yearly. It has led to higher standards when it comes to facilities and services.

Private schools must offer unique programs and experiences that cannot be found elsewhere. They need to differentiate themselves and be able to show their value proposition to families to effectively attract students to reverse a two-decade-long trend.

Similar to the private school space, the daycare, and Pre-K space is also very competitive. For example, in Cary, North Carolina (one mid-sized city in the U.S), there are 84 childcare centers, including La Petite Academy, The Learning Experience, Kids R Kids, The Growing Years Learning Centers, Primrose, KinderCare, Bright Horizons, Bright Beginnings, Kiddie Academy, Children’s Lighthouse, The Goddard School and many others. Some are accredited, and some aren’t.

Therefore, childcare and Pre-K providers need to provide an improved parent and child experience to attract and retain families, as there are many options available to choose from.

What do Facility Management Approaches Have to do With Childcare and Education?

Daycare, Pre-K, and, private schools are budget conscious and have a fixed revenue stream, but the facility approach they are using cuts their margins further. This money could be used to hire, retain, and develop qualified staff.

Many childcare organizations, private schools, and charter schools are using small independent cleaners at their different locations. Or, they are using standard janitorial companies that focus only on cleaning.  

Standard janitorial companies are just that—janitorial only. However, these companies can't offer and bundle other services an education facility needs because they don't offer them.  

Moreover, they can’t offer oversight or flexibility based on what a specific building needs or doesn’t need.

What Happens When There is a Lack of Consolidation

The answer is choosing a mature facilities management company to oversee all your facility needs. So instead of paying X% margins to one facility management organization (like OpenWorks), they are paying X% margins for janitorial, X% margins for maintenance, X% margins for landscaping, etc.

And, what’s more, they have limited visibility and no predictability when it comes to costs across sites and regions.

Not only are childcare centers and Pre-K-12 private schools reducing margins further with their facility management approach, but they’re also decreasing efficiency.

For example, one of the premier early childhood educators in the United States, operating more than 300 private preschools and elementary schools, was not taking a consolidated approach to facility management where there was one point of contact.

The organization had vendors for nightly cleans, a regular janitorial service, and landscaping vendors.

The private preschool and elementary school professionals experienced inconsistent service performance across locations. There were times when the vendors just didn’t show up.

Instead of focusing on the student experience, administrators were tracking down vendors to see if they had somebody else to help clean, and if they didn’t, the administrator needed to devise an alternative solution (on top of all the other things they were doing).

The school was in desperate need of an organization that would take control of service so administrators could worry about what was best for the kids and the school to attract and retain staff and families.

Administrators need time to do their planning. Time to manage the kids. Time to meet with parents. If they are putting out facility fires, then they are not being efficient with their time.

Inconsistent Facility Management Services Impact Student Recruitment, Student Attendance, Family Retention, and Staff

A charter management organization in the United States, operating 55 K-8 schools in nine states left OpenWorks for a lower-cost facility management provider. But they returned to OpenWorks after the contract ended as the provider did not offer dependability.

They were having the same labor shortage issues that daycare and private schools are seeing – and they did not provide consistent service across locations. The provider lacked communication and was not responsive to school administrators creating inefficiencies. Most importantly, the schools weren’t getting cleaned correctly as the provider underbid OpenWorks and cut corners with service.

Private schools face challenges complying with new regulations, laws, guidelines, and policies. They must follow specific standards to maintain a license to operate. With inconsistent service, the charter management organization was put at risk of getting shut down.  

Depending on an agency’s star rating, childcare agencies in Tennessee, for example, are inspected four to six times each year. Each quarter, one unannounced visit is made. The objective of these visits is to make sure that providers are meeting licensing requirements.

Inconsistent service was impacting the quality of the facilities. Parents would see marks on the walls made from typical child behavior. Perhaps one of the most important sections of a school or childcare facility that needs attention is the bathrooms. Let’s face it, kids aren’t always focused on leaving the restrooms in perfect order when they leave.  

This is why trained professional cleaners follow strict guidelines regarding dwell time and chemical use. On top of dirty bathrooms, the school’s floor suffered from a lack of restorative care. This school became a place where no one could feel a sense of pride or safety conducive to learning.

The lack of cleaning impacted student and staff attendance because poor hygiene created more viral and bacterial infections. Parent satisfaction and student retention were impacted as families decided to leave the schools.

New student recruitment took a hit as parents need to feel that sense of pride and safety from the moment they step out of the car into the building daily. Lack of cleaning also affected the brand image as the unhygienic situation led to negative Yelp and Google reviews.

Finally, it affected employees who were already unhappy with unsatisfactory pay and then had to deal with poor working conditions.

How Consolidating Facility Management Services Will Improve the State of Childcare and Education

Not only will daycare centers and private schools have greater margin control with consolidated facility management services, but they will also gain greater oversight, and visibility into facility performance to make better decisions, as well as improved service consistency.

Improved facility management will cut costs of teacher and staff churn, which also impacts the student experience. It will reduce the costs for student acquisition as they can acquire more students through advertising budgets.

They will increase their competitiveness and protect profits leaking from student churn because of competition. And, because schools and centers can provide a better experience with a new facility management approach, they can raise tuition across all regions more consistently while increasing their competitive advantage.

While the challenges that lie ahead for childcare and education require more than just changing their facility management approach, using a provider like OpenWorks will go a long way in terms of protecting the P&L.

If your school, whether it focuses on daycare for littles, Pre-K, K-8, or even high school, look into consolidating your facilities management with a mature facility management company that takes care of you and your buildings like you deserve.

OpenWorks has more than 40 years of experience in facilities management and can serve you with a personal touch. Contact us today.

*Note: the terms 'charter' and 'private' are only used to differentiate from primarily government-funded public education as charter schools can be state-funded agencies as well.

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