COVID-19 outbreaks, lack of staff force Lakeland daycare center close its doors permanently

COVID-19 has daycare centers and preschools across the country under pressure. On Friday, the Learning Station Academy in North Lakeland its doors for good because financially it could not hold on any longer.

"It has been heartbreaking," Melissa Toribio, the owner, told FOX 13. "I have been in tears for over three weeks. This has been my dream, my lifelong goal, my everything.

Toribio says at least two factors pushed her to the point of no return. Her daycare center temporarily closed for two weeks, four times over the last year, after someone there came up positive for the COVID-19. That meant no money was coming in during that time.

Then, there’s the other part of the equation. Like so many businesses right now, Turibio had a terrible time finding and keeping employees. She says she ran an ad for months to fill three positions, but she could only fill one available job.

"There were very, very few (applicants) and when you explain to them what the job entails, they’re like, "Oh! I don’t want to do that. I’ll just stay home. It’s not worth it."

It is not like daycare staffers make a fortune. Quite the opposite.

"Child care providers, teachers, they are definitely underpaid," said Cheryl Kelly, a vice president at the Early Learning Coalition of Polk County. "This has been an ongoing issue for years."

Early learning employees usually start at less than $11 an hour. In comparison, Amazon employees can start at $17.50 an hour with a signing bonus.

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