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Community considers new child care center

Melanie Wong
mwong@vaildaily.com

EAGLE COUNTY — After a few years of discussion and what seems like a perpetual shortage of available and affordable child care, some Eagle County leaders are calling for solutions that include a new 225-child early childhood education facility in the mid-valley.

Currently, the county faces a shortage in infant care spots and day care, as well as nearly-full facilities for toddlers and a long wait-list for government assisted child care services. The goal of the new Educare Center would be to serve children from six weeks old through kindergarten and include care for families of all income levels. Plans for the new center have been in the works for a few years, spearheaded by members of the Eagle County Childcare Council. Currently, Eagle County, which would play a large organizational and possibly economic role in the project, is conducting a study to look at the early childhood needs and demands in the county, as well as the feasibility of such a center. The results are expected in about three weeks.

Early plans

Eagle County has been looking for ways to close the achievement gap for young children for several years now, said Dick Rothkopf, an early childhood education advocate and member of Eagle County’s early childhood council.

“The idea is to lessen or completely alleviate the achievement gap when a child goes into kindergarten,” he said. “Studies show that if you don’t go to preschool, you enter kindergarten 1.5 years behind the other kids, and the sad thing is that they often never catch up. By the time a child is in third grade, you can usually predict whether or not they will graduate high school.”

Rothkopf spent years working with Ounce of Prevention, a childhood advocacy board in Chicago. There, he helped start the first Educare school, which served mostly low-income young children. There are now Educare schools across the country, built with the help of government funds and support from community stakeholders. When Rothkopf moved to Eagle County, he began working with the Youth Foundation and together with the county commissioners and other board of education stakeholders, developed the idea to open an Educare school in Eagle County.

The facility would provide high-quality early childhood education and care to low-income families, as well as full-tuition families, and tentative plans have it located in either Eagle or Edwards. So far, the idea has the interest of the Eagle County commissioners and the support of the school district.

“It would be funded by state and federal grants and partnerships with private funders. The key is to provide the spark between the public and private sectors, and we’re trying to help facilitate that,” Rothkopf said. “For sustainability and quality, it needs to be supplemented by a private entity who looks after the quality (of the program) and makes up the deficit. It won’t work if we don’t get that private commitment.”

He added that talks have involved Colorado Mountain College in Edwards, which is considering partnering with the program by making the school a lab for their teaching programs. CMC students could come to the Educare school to observe, as well as help design and teach the classes.

Assessing the need and demand

Eagle County commissioners have made early childhood education one of their top priorities, and they say that the results of the current study will help them decide if an Educare center is what the county needs.

There’s no doubt there is a need — the county’s Head Start program currently has nearly 100 kids on the waiting list, and the Early Head Start program has nearly 60 children waiting for child care services. However, how those needs should be met is the question, said Eagle County Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry.

“We know there’s a lot of demand out there, but we want to know where parents would go — would they go to a central location like Edwards? Also, what would they pay? What subsidies are needed, and is this something we have existing dollars for? The dollars question is a big piece of it. What part of this should be considered a public good?” she said.

The question of using public money to aid early childhood education is one that has come up before in Eagle County. In 2008, voters shot down a measure for a tax that would support early childhood measures. In contrast, Pitkin County, Aspen and Summit County all have tax funds that go toward early childhood education.

“This is both a workforce issue and a critical social investment,” said Chandler-Henry, who serves on the Eagle County Early Childhood Council. “There’s a lot of national attention and research on the topic right now, and it’s a subject that’s been bubbling for a few years now.”

Assistant Managing Editor Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2927 or at mwong@vaildaily.com. Follow her on Twitter @mwongvail.


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