School board approves 25% increase to early childhood fees￼
For some families, the increase will be offset by the funding rolled out in the state’s pending Universal Preschool program
At its Wednesday, Dec. 14 meeting, the Eagle County School District Board of Education approved a 25% increase to its early childhood education fees in a split vote — with board members Michelle Stecher and Lucila Tvarkunas dissenting, and Kelly Alter, Juan Peña and Dan Reynolds affirming.
This is the first significant change to these fees in years and was done in order for the district to recapture state funding from the Colorado Child Care Assistance Program.
“We are growing our cost to the district, at the same time we are not. Other than grants, we’re not bringing in additional funding. We really wanted to be mindful of capitalizing on funds that are available to the district to offset the costs of our program, said Shelley Smith, the director of the district’s early childhood education department. “Especially with some of the federal grants going away, that the district is going to have some financial obligations and want to make sure we’re looking as a department to capture as much as we can to support the district as a whole.”
These rate changes will affect new families starting Jan. 1, 2023. However, families currently enrolled in the program won’t see any fee increases until the start of the 2023-24 school year.
The district’s early childhood education fee schedule takes into consideration a number of factors including the child’s age, the length of day (half day, full day, extended), the number of days of care a week as well as whether a student has an individual education plan.
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Currently, for a typical day of care, the district charges $55 for 8 hours of infant care, $50 for 8 hours of toddler care and $50 for 9 hours of preschool care. With the approved hike, the rates will increase to $69 for infants, $63 for toddlers and $63 for preschoolers for the same number of hours of care.
In an effort to bolster its wider recruiting and retaining efforts, staff members will also receive a 20% discount on these fees.
The last time the district changed its fees was with a $1 increase around three years ago, and up until that time, there had been no increase for around five years, according to Smith.
This change comes now as the district seeks to regain funding with the Colorado Child Care Assistance Program, also known as CCAP. This program helps connect families that qualify based on income with low-income child care assistance. Providers receive funding from the state based on the number of students it has enrolled with CCAP assistance, and are reimbursed based on the fee schedule. Because the district has not increased its fees, there is a gap in what it has been able to collect from the state.
For each dollar the fee was increased, Smith said the district would gain $55,575 in funding from CCAP.
The school board saw the first proposal for increases in October, with the rates maximized to what CCAP would reimburse. However, the school board directed that this increase, which would have nearly doubled the fees, was too much for families. The 25% increase was meant as a more “reasonable amount to capture,” Smith said.
At its most recent board meeting, however, several board members — including those that dissented in the vote — expressed that the rate increase was still too large, requesting instead a more incremental increase in fees.
“Obviously, this doesn’t affect our low-income families; it will definitely affect the middle class, which is, I feel it’s the people who are struggling to stay in this beautiful place and things just keep getting harder and harder. I totally get this would be a good chunk for the district, but to me, it just doesn’t feel right at this point,” Tvarkunas said, later adding “It’s a moot point now that we haven’t increased the rates for a number of years, but I would feel more comfortable if we do it gradually instead of a 25% jump.”
While those that voted for the 25% rate increase agreed it was a large at-once increase, they expressed support for the district’s rationale.
“The district has costs, the administrative team has looked at this and what our needs are and based on that, picked the 25%,” Reynolds said. “I would not feel comfortable, just us as a board, picking a different number.”
Sandy Farrell, the district’s chief operating officer, said she felt the 25% increase was what was “necessary to support the costs that we have to operate that program.”
With the pending rollout of the state’s Universal Preschool Program, these increases will “predominantly impact infants and toddlers,” Smith said, adding that with this program, families with three and four-year-olds will now receive state funding.
“The bulk of any increase we do will be offset by other subsidies that are coming in,” Smith said.