College of Education > Faculty and Staff Resources > Faculty Council > Faculty Council Minutes > Attachment - Letter on State of Childcare Centers on Campus from Concerned Faculty

Attachment - Letter on State of Childcare Centers on Campus from Concerned Faculty

Attachment - Letter on State of Childcare Centers on Campus from Concerned Faculty

Dear College of Education Faculty Council members,

Penn State University Park has two on-site early childhood education centers: (1) Bennett Family Center with 135 children and 33 employees and (2) Hort Woods Childcare Center with 162 children and 38 employees. In June 2013, Penn State announced a plan to outsource the Bennett Center's management and employees to Hildebrandt Learning Centers, LLC, which is the same company that manages the Hort Woods Center. For 40 teachers and staff, this transition means losing Penn State employment status, including health care, retirement, and tuition discounts. Concerned researchers and parents met with President Rodney Erickson, HHD Dean Ann (Nan) Crouter, and Susan Basso as well as presented concerns to the Board of Trustees. As a result of these meetings, the transition to the management company was delayed until June 2014, pending the recommendations of a new Childcare Task Force.

A group of College of Education Faculty including Gail Boldt, Andrea McCloskey, Esther Prins, Joe Valente, Stephanie Serriere, Heather Zimmerman, and Priya Sharma have been in consultation about the proposed outsourcing of the University Park on-campus early childhood education centers and the upcoming Childcare Task Force to address this process. We ask Faculty Council, on behalf of College faculty, staff, administrators, and students, to form its own ad hoc committee to advise the Childcare Task Force on how the College of Education may be involved with the on-site early childhood education centers for three key reasons.

First, we understand that it is increasingly the policy of not only Penn State but many universities to outsource operations as a cost-cutting measure- turning university employees into employees of other companies to save on benefits. Outsourcing to the private sector allows both Penn State and Hildebrandt to show greater profitability by reducing labor costs, Penn State through eliminating employees and Hildebrandt through significantly raising the employee contribution to health insurance and lowering the employer contribution to the 403(b). The new contracts are going to mean that Bennett Center teachers (and those from Hort Woods who are currently PSU employees) will now be spending up to half of their monthly salaries for health care alone. They will lose their retirement benefit and the Penn State tuition waiver. We are also guessing the university prefers the risk or the appearance of responsibility related to risk to lie elsewhere. While these might be seem like good strategies for the University in the short-run, they are not good for the lives of those directly involved nor do we believe it is good for Penn State's reputation in relation to the concern it has for the lives of children.

Second, we do not believe it is possible to separate the managerial from the academic and research issues. Many of the outstanding Bennett Center and Hort Woods/COL teachers can only afford to teach there because of their decent benefits. When these benefits are gone, they will leave. If we are to use Bennett Center and Hort Woods as sites for training our students, it is imperative that they are in classrooms with fully qualified, professional teachers. We cannot place students with demoralized, deprofessionalized teachers and under-qualified assistants.

Further on the point of academic integrity, important policies at Hildebrandt are determined in relation to legal risk rather than in relation to best practices in early childhood education. For example, their policy for terminating children/families makes it difficult for them to work effectively with children who have developmental or behavioral issues. This is NOT the model we want for our students-get rid of children who are difficult to serve. In fact, since the corporatization and academic push into early childhood, the level of expulsion of children from early childhood settings has skyrocketed. Preschoolers are being expelled at three times the rate of K-12 students and the expulsion rate is much higher for African American children (especially boys) than for other groups. Expulsion is significantly worse in for-profit preschools than in public preschools like Head Start, that have a mission to educate all children who come to them. Here is a link to the study from the Yale Child Study Center at the Yale University School of Medicine on this issue: ht_lfJ://www,12Jan, Bennett shares in the commitment to the education of all the children who come to them and in fact, has taken children separated from other facilities voluntarily or involuntarily. Given how important it is-especially as we want to expand our disabilities studies program-that we work with educators who have the knowledge, commitment, and latitude to not follow rigid, risk-based polices on working with and terminating care arrangements for 2-, 3-, 4- and 5-year olds, this shift absolutely would affect our teaching mission. The same issues complicate our ability to conduct research in privatized childcare environments. We have some momentum regarding getting grants, especially around inclusive education, but we cannot conduct this research in a corporate environment. To put the case more positively, if the College were to become more actively involved with supporting Bennett Center and Hort Woods, we see potential for working with these Centers as the base for grants and for cross College collaborations with mental health and counseling, early childhood, family literacy, and learning, design, and technology as well as continuing collaborations with Arts and Architecture.

Third, we strongly believe that what is happening to these teachers is immoral, and it is part of the degradation of teachers nationwide that as teacher educators we are so actively involved in fighting against. The Bennett teachers are incredibly demoralized and deprofessionalized by this move. Our Penn State students are already nervous about their choice to become teachers. They go into the field and are told over and over how bad teaching has become as a profession, how little respect they have, and how increasingly neo-liberal politics are eroding their professional ability to do what they know to be best for the children they serve. Our students need to be in placements with teachers who are professionally powerful and empowered. We absolutely cannot put our students in a field placement right here on the Penn State campus where this very same degradation of teacher professionalism is happening. If Penn State does not have respect for teachers, what are we doing?

We'll close by saying we would like an ad hoc Faculty Council committee made up of CoE faculty, staff, administrators, and students to develop possible relationships between the College and the Bennett Center and Hort Woods Centers and to present these options formally to the Childcare Task Force. The amount of goodwill the College would garner should it enter into a formal relationship with the Centers is tremendous. Bennett Center (and Hort Woods, if we think of it as a descendent of COL) are beloved, well-respected, and wellestablished. Even with all that has gone wrong for Penn State, the Bennett Center still has a national reputation as one thing that Penn State has always done right. As a College we have the opportunity to not have to start something good but to simply work with the University to step into something that already exists, is already healthy and strong in its operation, and to simply help keep it going by building on the incredibly competent managerial and professional work already done by our early childhood education colleagues.

Thank you for your time. It is important to us to be sure that we have laid out our concerns as fully as possible in making this appeal for your consideration. We have confidence that you will consider our concerns and interests-as parents, educators, and researchers-carefully.

Gail, Joe, Andrea, Esther, Stephanie, Priya, and Heather
For Penn State childcare policy, see HR 48 (