April 25, 2023

Advocacy Organizations Release Report on Rural Early Care and Education

Trying Together, in partnership with Start Strong PA and Pre-K for PA, recently released a report on the current state of early child care and education in Pennsylvania’s rural counties.

Entitled, “A Snapshot of the Rural Early Care and Education Landscape: Examining data from 13 counties in Pennsylvania,” the report shows that families in rural Pennsylvania communities have limited access to quality care, despite having a higher proportion of parents in the workforce, and a greater prevalence of long and nontraditional hours and commutes.

About Rural Counties and the Rural Early Care and Education Report

Authors of the report considered counties in which the number of people per square mile amounted to less than 291 (the statewide average), rural. Of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties, 72% met this definition, and just over 162,000 children under five live in them.

This report highlights data in the following rural counties: Armstrong, Butler, Centre, Clarion, Fayette, Franklin, Greene, Indiana, Somerset, and Washington. It also includes data from Lancaster, Westmoreland, and York counties. These counties aren’t classified as rural based on the population, but include pockets of rural communities facing similar challenges.

Report Findings

Rural families and child care providers have some of the greatest challenges in accessing and providing child care in Pennsylvania. This is due to the unique realities of rural areas, including fewer high-quality options, distance and travel, limited transportation, higher teacher turnover, fewer qualified individuals living in the region, and lower family incomes.


Working Families Child Care Needs

  • Nearly every rural county in PA shows a majority of all available parents in the labor force.
  • Seven of the counties reviewed have a higher proportion of working parents than does the state.
    • Over 80% of parents in Butler County are in the workforce, as are three quarters of parents in Indiana and Somerset counties.
  • In rural areas, options for evening, overnight, or weekend hours are scarce, with one parent describing them as non-existent.

Child Care Provider Capacity

  • The number of Child Care Works (CCW) subsidy-eligible children who need child care exceeds the licensed capacity in every county reviewed, with the exception of Centre.
    • Families are eligible for the CCW subsidy if their incomes are at or below 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Level ($60,000 for a family of four).
  • Most rural child care programs are not operating at full capacity because they don’t have enough staffing.
  • Statewide home-based providers make up about 30% of licensed programs, yet home-based providers comprise a much higher proportion in some of the rural counties analyzed.
    • In Greene County, home-based providers account for over 70% of licensed options, and for over half in Franklin County. Indiana County home-based providers make up 48% of licensed options, and in Armstrong and Somerset counties, home-based providers are 42% of licensed child care.

Public Funding for Child Care and Pre-K

  • The state only serves a quarter of CCW-eligible infants and toddlers. Unfortunately, this figure is even lower in every rural county reviewed. In rural counties, both subsidized and private pay infant and toddler care is difficult to find and afford.
  • Pre-K children are served at much higher rates than infants and toddlers, given that pre-k investments have been more consistent and sustainable.
    • Clarion, Greene, Indiana, and Lawrence counties are serving more than half of their eligible three- and four- year olds.

The Child Care Workforce

  • Pennsylvania is experiencing a dramatic decline in teachers from pre-k to 12th grade, and rural communities have been the most significantly impacted by this decline.
  • No county shows median annual earnings above $26,000, with six counties below $20,000 a year. The median earnings fall well under the cost of living in every county.
  • Providers highlighted the difficulty of training staff, especially with changing requirements and when onboarding new employees.
  • Another challenge that providers raised is the lack of mental and behavioral health and early intervention services.


Early childhood programs can’t continue to operate with their current budgets and expenses. Additionally, middle class families cannot continue to shoulder the brunt of the cost, while child care teachers subsidize the system through their own low wages. Thus, Trying Together, Start Strong PA, and Pre-K for PA recommend the following:

  1. Invest long-term, sustainable funding for early childhood educator wages.
  2. Conduct further research on family child care needs and choices in rural communities.
  3. Support resources and quality for home-based and relative care providers.
  4. Increase infant and toddler contracted slots (grants).
  5. Move to an alternative cost methodology for setting subsidy rates.
  6. Increase early intervention, mental health, and behavioral health resources, and professionals.
  7. Provide more support and resources to help rural providers meet training requirements.

Learn More

To learn more, read the full report.