Family Learning Center to close Dec. 31 |

Family Learning Center to close Dec. 31

Special to the Daily
Special to the Daily |

About the Family Learning Center

Location: Edwards, near the St. Clare schools.

Kids: 87.

Teachers: 20.

Percentage of families who receive some sort of tuition aid: 80.

EDWARDS — The Family Learning Center, which has provided care and preschool education to valley kids since 2000, will close Dec. 31.

A statement from the center’s board of directors stated the center will close for financial reasons. “As the need in the valley has increased, (the center) has increased their support and scholarship program, but funding sources have become less available,” according to the statement.

The center’s closure will probably hit lower-income families the hardest. The families of about 80 percent of the kids at the facility rely on some sort of financial aid to pay for care. The center hosts the Colorado Preschool Program, and most kids in the federally funded Early Head Start program attend the center. Other families rely on funds from the Child Care Assistance Program.

Center Director Sandy Jennings said the need for subsidized care has increased since the economic slump began in 2007. For a while, grants, donations and other sources met that need. But several of the grants have expired, as have other sources of money. Then there’s the fact that fewer kids attend than a few years ago because family members who have lost jobs need less child care.

Until her recent retirement, Cass Galloway ran the Pooh Corner Preschool in Minturn for more than 20 years. The news that the Family Learning Center hit her hard. But, she said, the realities of running a child care facility mean many such centers run on the ragged edge of solvency.

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Galloway said one of the hardest tightropes to walk is the one between charging parents enough to keep the lights on and the staff paid a decent wage and keeping care affordable.

Add in other state and federal regulations, including those for security and how many teachers must be in a classroom, and the Family Learning Center was one of the few facilities big enough to meet those requirements.

Another complication is the current job market. Before the slump, Galloway said many two-parent families would basically dedicate one parent’s pay to child care, with that parent’s job covering health insurance. That doesn’t happen much any more, she said. With the loss of jobs in the valley, more parents are relying on themselves, friends and relatives to cover child care. That means fewer kids and less revenue.

Beyond the financial picture, Galloway said losing the Family Learning Center will be bad for kids.

“The kids that most need to be in a structured environment are the ones on assistance,” she said. “Those are the kids that need stability.

The programs for kids at the Family Learning Center include food assistance, as well as educational programs for the older kids, Jennings said. That’s going to be hard to duplicate, although people in Eagle County and at the center are trying to help families find new options for their kids.

Kathleen Lyons, the economic services director in the Eagle County Department of Human Services, said parents who use assistance programs will be able to choose other providers in the valley.

At the center, Jennings said she and the rest of the staff will also try to help families find child care, even if it’s a temporary referral to library story hours or the valley’s book bus to keep kids engaged and learning. The center will also try to find new jobs for as many teachers as possible, although there certainly aren’t 20 such positions available at the moment. And, Jennings said, the center won’t close quietly.

“We’ll pound the pavement until the very end” to find financial help, Jennings said.

That means looking for quick assistance, even if it’s just temporary.

But once the center closes, it will probably remain closed. Grants can take months to receive, and Jennings said reviving the Family Learning Center would require money and probably a new space since the current center uses a building owned by the Catholic Church, adjacent to its own school.

None of which is easy.

“It’s all just been very difficult,” Jennings said.

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