Educators analyze child care

Group learns how to better handle situation locally

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— A group of early child-care providers and facilitators gathered Monday afternoon to learn about the state of children in Colorado in order to make a clearer decision on the early childhood education ballot initiative for November.

Bruce Atchison, vice president of Colorado Children's Campaign, provided comprehensive analyses on the demographics of early child care throughout Colorado, the problems and impacts of local communities.

Atchison congratulated the group on its efforts to get the two items on the November ballot; however, he said there is much to be done in the next 30 days.

"Don't target the usual suspects make friends with the people that don't get it," Atchison said. "Have a consistent message and don't get off track."

Colorado Children's Campaign is a statewide advocacy organization from Denver. In a pamphlet of problems and resolutions for early childhood education, the campaign noted oftentimes child care is not affordable or accessible to low-income families.

Atchison said Routt County recognizes this as a local problem and creating a ballot initiative helps to solve it.

Tami Havener, Family Development Center executive director, said the biggest problem with early childhood education and care is the high staff turnover in the county.

"If one child is exposed to 10 different educators, then that one child isn't receiving the best quality education," Havener said. "High staff turnover leads to poor outcomes for kids."

Atchison and the group defined quality education as good teacher-to-child ratios, small group sizes, parental support and education and a high level of professional development.

Atchison said most businesses provide their employees with benefits and competitive wages to keep them employed, but early child-care facilities lack that vision.

Bob White, Routt County human services director, said he's in support of the ballot items concerning early childhood education because it's good for the workplace and assists the "future brains" of society.

"My youngest child is 23 and I just wrote my last tuition check, but I still support education," White said.

White said the low economic impact on a family will help relieve a major social impact.

The ballot initiative proposes two plans: a half-cent sales tax excluding food and utilities and a 1 mill levy increase of county property tax.

For instance, a $400,000 house would pay $36 extra per year for a tax benefiting early childhood education.

Atchison said child care keeps Colorado working because if child care increases and there is no state or local avenue to make up for a gap, employers will have to increase wages and salaries.

But Atchison said he's concerned about the overall population growth and the decrease in the child population.

"You exploded in terms of child population last year, but now it's leveling off. That says you're losing your working population," Atchison said.

Atchison also noted Routt County was not named among other counties that have children living in poverty.

"It doesn't mean you don't have children living in poverty, you just don't fall in the federal poverty guidelines because the cost of living is so darn high," Atchison said.

If the ballot items pass, Atchison said not only will parents be receiving better quality care for their children, but they will have more choices as to where to take their children.

White said an analogy to the ballot items is secondary education. Parents pay what they can afford and a scholarship will pay the rest.

"What's going on in Steamboat is going on in the state," Atchison said.

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