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Decatur needs more childcare. The city council can help.

Decatur has a childcare shortage.  According to the Birth to Five Illinois Early Childhood Regional Needs Assessment, there are 9,034 children in Macon and Piatt counties under the age of 5, and only 3,894 child care slots for those children.  57% of children in this area do not have an opportunity for early childhood education prior to entering Kindergarten.  The Decatur City Council can improve this situation by spending approximately $730,000 of federal funds received during the COVID-19 pandemic to rehabilitate the former Wee Folks building on North Jasper Street so that the building will meet occupancy standards for a modern childcare facility. 

When operating at full capacity, the enhanced facility is expected to have 250 childcare openings per shift and will ultimately be able to run three shifts, thereby providing care for 750 children.  Improving this facility not only provides early childhood education to children who may not otherwise have it, it is highly complementary to the city council’s strategic priority of workforce development.  Specifically, a new childcare facility will be instrumental in eliminating one of the largest barriers to re-entering the workforce – availability of childcare.  It will also likely grow dozens of childcare worker jobs to operate the facility.

With a childcare facility in the urban core, a large number of parents may once again be able to join the workforce.  Currently, labor force participation in Decatur is significantly lower than both state and national averages.  According to the U.S. Census Bureau, between 2018-2022, the total % of population 16 years and older in the labor force was 56.7% in Decatur compared to 65% in Illinois.  The female % of population 16 years and older in the labor force was 52.7% in Decatur compared to 60.4% in Illinois. 

The renovated childcare facility will complement the recently launched Jasper St. Great Streets/Great Neighborhoods initiative by rehabilitating an aging structure, and further illustrates the city’s commitment to improving this corridor.  According to the Jasper Street great streets great neighborhoods report published September 18, 2023, the median age of residents in the corridor is 34.2, lower than the U.S. median age of 38.9 and an indicator of a high ratio of families with young children.  People living in the corridor have a significantly lower median household income ($30,705) compared to the city as a whole ($47,141).  Thus, a childcare center in the Jasper St. corridor can be the catalyst to grow the workforce in a part of the city that needs it most.   

It is important to note that the city will not be operating the childcare center. Instead, the model is similar to the completed renovation of the second floor of the Decatur Public Library facility in which the Decatur City Council approved spending $645,749 to build classrooms and larger spaces to be used by Workforce Development Solutions, CICD and the operators of the Thinkwell Makerspace.  It is also important to note that the council previously approved allocating funding for the project.  What remains is for the council to approve the contracts for the rehabilitation of the facility. 

According to the Workforce Development Systems Assessment, Strategy, and Implementation roadmap that was commissioned by Decatur and Macon County, over 6,900 households in Decatur’s urban core have children under the age of 18.  Of those households, 3,222 are single parent households (47%).  If the city wants to provide opportunities for more families to achieve their American Dream, it must remove barriers to employment.  Greater access to childcare is critical, and the city council can and should act more quickly to improve the situation. 

Horn for Decatur
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