Report points to lack of child care in Eagle County | VailDaily.com

Report points to lack of child care in Eagle County

Jeanelle Thompson
newsroom@vaildaily.com

EAGLE — Eagle County has a child care and early childhood education crisis, according a report presented Tuesday afternoon to the county commissioners.

Eric B. Schnurer, president of Public Works, a research firm from West Chester, Pennsylvania, made his presentation to a room packed largely with early child care advocates.

The report focused on what Schnurer called the "three-legged stool":

Accessibility

Affordability

Quality

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Ironically, near the end of Tuesday's presentation, County Commissioner Jill Ryan had to leave because she had to pick up her child from child care.

It's expensive

Colorado is the seventh most expensive state in the country for child care, Schnurer said. Eagle County is Colorado's seventh most expensive county, where families pay between $11,000 and $13,000 annually.

Right now, 1,400 Eagle County children may need child care, Schnurer said.

At $11,000-$13,000 a year, plus prohibitively expensive housing and the most expensive health insurance costs in the country, families are "cost burdened," said County Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry.

The long-term solutions are expensive, which is why Schnurer suggested taking it in small bites.

"To get to the kind of child care every child should have and you want them to have is a $10 million proposition," Schnurer said.

However, there's a significant return on investment. State legislator organizations claim it returns $8.80 for every $1 spent.

"This is not a welfare program, it's an economic development program," Schnurer said.

"In communities where it works, governments are involved, along with schools and the business community," he said.

Most business people know that the productivity of their workforce goes down after 3 p.m. because people are worried abut their kids.

"In places this where this works, everyone realizes they have a stake in it," Schnurer said.

Even in Texas, where they're not standing up and yelling for more government, the business community partnered with the government, Schnurer said.

"In Texas, the business community recognized that this is an important issue. They're working with governments to address it as a business issue," Schnurer said.

Community collaboration

Community collaboration is vital, he said. A similar effort in Aspen now has 1,000 people actively involved, he said.

"They did not start with 1,000 people. It started when it affected who they are as a community," said Jeanne McQueeney, county commissioner, who added that it's woven into Aspen's housing issue.

It's a workforce and economic development problem, she said.

Businesses cannot expand if they cannot find workers, and workers are impossible to find because they cannot find adequate child care.

The Eagle County school district will have 21 classrooms dedicated to early childhood education this fall. However, those programs end at 3 p.m. and don't run during the summers.

If you're working outside the home, that doesn't work for you, said Eagle County Schools Superintendent Jason Glass.

"It's not a crisis for everyone, but if you have an infant or toddler it's a crisis for you," Glass said.

What to do

The first step is to create a countywide child care task force that reaches beyond the usual people involved in this, he said.

"This is not an inexpensive proposition," Schnurer said. "You'll need broad-based public support, especially in the face of the stated goal of providing quality child care for every child in the county. Build a coalition and agree on what the objectives should be."

It's also a long-term proposition.

Montgomery County, Maryland, and Long Beach, California, are considered the gold standards, and they've been at it for 10 years, Schnurer said.

He said Eagle County is probably two to four years from the funding stage.

"To achieve what you want to achieve, it's a comprehensive system — high quality, consistent and affordable," he said. "None of this happens overnight."

The county commissioners made early childhood education part of their 2017 strategic plan.

Voters would have to approve any new taxes, Ryan said.

"If we want a robust early child education program, we're going to have to pay for it," Ryan said.

Childcare/Early Childhood Education Roadmap

Immediate recommendations, $50,000-$100,000

Create a countywide early childhood task force: $50,000-$100,000

Short-term recommendations: $305,000-$650,000

Create a coordinating entity: $75,000-$100,000

Expand Eagle County Schools’ early childhood program capacity: $268,593

Provide transportation for Eagle County Schools’ preschool students: $140,220

Provide infant and toddler care subsidies to providers: $457,000-$2.3 million

Provide childcare subsidies to parents: $63,000-$7.5 million

Provide professional development scholarships and retention incentives: $25,000-$600,000

Recruit Spanish speaking early childhood professionals: $50,000-$100,000

Hire a Family, Friends, and Neighbors (FFN) program coordinator: $50,000-$100,000

Provide technical assistance with licensing: $50,000-$100,000

Develop a supportive infrastructure for providers: No cost

Provide quality improvement grants: $5,000-$50,000

Work with Colorado Mountain College to expand and enhance early childhood program options: No cost

Hire a family services coordinator and expand family outreach programs: $150,000-$200,000

Create a bi-lingual county resource center: $50,000-$100,000

Subsidize visiting bilingual mental health professional for childcare providers: $75,000-$150,000

Long-term recommendations: $1 million and up

Award grants for facility building: $1 million/grant

Consider an Educare center in the future: Current proposal: $12 million for capital costs and $4 million for annual operating costs.