Leaders in the county’s early childcare industry presented the Dillon Town Council with the hopes of starting a countywide early childhood education fund. The council voiced unanimous approval.
Early Childhood Options Executive Director Lucinda Burns, program director Catherine Schaaf and chairperson Jennifer McAtamney, alongside Dillon Finance Director Carri McDonnel, gave the council their “first stab” at the countywide fund. The county currently funds childcare for 3- and 4-year-olds through the Strong Future-SPK fund, a staff memo states. Childcare leaders presented councilors with the hope for a similar program funded by the towns for infants and toddlers up to 3-years-old.
Conversations about workforce housing can intertwine with early-childhood education, Burns said.
“Any argument you can make for affordable housing, that exactly the same argument can be applied to affordable, accessible and quality childcare,” she said.
“When it comes to infants and toddlers, we’re way short,” Burns said.
She reported that 600 kids are on a countrywide wait list. In February, Shaaf said it could take one to two years for a spot at one of the county’s childcare centers to open up.
Dillon would contribute a percentage of the total cost, and other towns across the county would chip in proportionally, Burns said. She said town and county managers had several proportional models to work off of and none had been chosen yet. She said her team hopes to submit a finalized proposition for the towns before the end of their budgeting process at the end of summer.
No precise cost exists for the program, but in conversations with McDonnel and the town, Dillon determined that money already assigned to the Lake Dillon Preschool and excess nicotine tax could be put at least $125,000 toward the program.
She estimated, for 2023, the countywide cost would be somewhere around $1 million. Beyond that, she said she had no numbers to present to the council. The conversation was more about broaching the conversation and answering early questions.
The need for the program stems from an inability for key workers to afford childcare. McAtamney described a common problem: people in their 20s move to the county for the mountain life, move up the corporate ladder into key jobs in the county, but are forced out when they try to start a family since they cannot afford early childcare.
Burns also said the program would address unequal childcare options across the county.
“We really see some inequities across the county. We’d like to close that gap,” Burns said. Breckenridge and Frisco have their own early childcare programs. The Town of Frisco created a tuition assistance program for Frisco residents and employees of Frisco businesses this spring. Breckenridge has offered childcare support for 15 years, Schaaf said, and offloaded some of its burden to the county when the county began its $2.5 million program for 3- and 4-year-olds.
Additionally, early childhood teachers would see a bump in pay with the program. In order to have stable programs, teachers need to make reasonable wages Burns said. Burns hoped the program could lead to more “competitive” wages for teachers, although her team said that still might not necessarily mean a “living” wage in Summit County.
The program could also lead to more teachers hired, meaning more capacity for potential students, McDonnel said.
McAtamney said Summit County lost 1-in-4 families in 2007 due to lack of affordable childcare.
The money would go to licensed childcare centers with approval from Colorado Shines, a statewide rating and approval system for early learning programs, the presenters said.
Councilors voiced unanimous support for the program. They previously expressed support for a Breckenridge-like program in Dillon.