Steamboat Springs Stephanie Howle, director of First Impressions of Routt County, said Tuesday that the biggest problem for local families seeking early childhood education is not long waiting lists at overcrowded preschools - the biggest problem is cost.
Howle visited with the Routt County Board of Commissioners to present a market survey about the county's child care providers. She said early learning centers are struggling to keep preschool affordable for working families, while still providing quality care.
"The catch-22 is that we want families to be able to afford quality child care, because with the population of Steamboat being working poor : they have to work more to be home with (their) child," Howle said. "But at the same time, we want child care centers to provide a quality environment and pay teachers well by charging the true cost of care. How are families going to afford that cost? So we are looking at finding ways to find a dedicated public funding source."
The market survey shows the average prices for child care at licensed centers and homes in Routt County. Based on those averages, Routt County Commissioners will determine how much money the county can allocate to centers and homes, as reimbursements to help fund child care for families eligible for the Colorado Child Care Assistance Program, or CCAP. The program helps families earning 52 percent or less of Colorado's median income.
Earlier this year, County Commissioners moved to a tiered reimbursement model for child care providers.
"In the past, we provided everybody with the same rate," Commissioner Doug Monger said. "With the tiered rate, we gave them an incentive to improve the quality of their program."
Center-based child care providers rated as "licensed plus" are currently reimbursed $58 per day for a child younger than two-and-a-half years old. Home-based "licensed plus" providers are reimbursed $53 per day.
If a center or home has a lower licensing rate, the county's reimbursement is less.
Center-based child care providers in a lower licensing tier are reimbursed $44 per day for a child younger than two-and-a-half years old. Home-based providers in a lower tier are reimbursed $53 per day.
Howle asked County Commissioners to raise each reimbursement $2, effective from Jan. 1, 2008, to Dec. 31, 2008. No vote was taken Tuesday, but commissioners indicated support for raising reimbursement rates.
Howle said financial assistance also is available to families who earn 53 to 85 percent of the Colorado median income for child care through the United Way/Human Resource Coalition Scholarship Program.
"All families receiving child care tuition assistance are paying a small portion of their child care tuition bill," she said. "It's to ensure that families who are under that 53 percent threshold don't forgo a raise because they no longer will receive reimbursements from the county."
According to a Yampa Valley Community Indicators survey conducted in 2005, 25 to 35 percent of Routt County families are considered "working poor," which is defined as families that work, yet struggle economically to meet basic needs.
The survey also indicated that a single parent with a young child in Routt County needs to work one full-time job, plus another half-time job, to support his or her family.
"This work load makes quality child care a high priority," Howle said.
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