Should county help expand local child care programs?
EAGLE COUNTY — The four candidates this fall for two Eagle County Commissioner seats recently sent email replies to a series of questions. Their answers will be published today, and Monday. The first in the series was published Friday, with second story published Saturday. Both can be viewed at http://www.vaildaily.com.
Today’s question: Eagle County voters rejected a child care tax proposal in 2006, but the commissioners at the time spent the money from the existing county budget. The current board of county commissioners is planning to spend money on a child care program. Is this a wise use of county funds, and has the situation changed enough in the ensuing 10 years that voters might feel differently about it?
• Michael Dunahay, Republican challenger in Commissioner District 1, which covers the eastern portion of the county.
A: The almost $2 million that the current board of county commissioners is planning to spend is not going to spent on increasing availability or reducing the cost of child care facilities in Eagle County. I am afraid it will go to more salaries, staff, bonuses, inspections, more regulations and would only be a feel-good fix for those that would see the money.
B: The current board of county commissioners has spent money on studies, polls, consultants and expenses and has determined that the voters would again reject a child care tax proposal in 2016. My own due diligence, at no expense to the county, came to that same conclusion.
• Jill Ryan, Democratic incumbent in Commissioner District 1.
The Vail Daily headline July 31 called Eagle County’s child care situation a “crisis,” quoting a recent county/school district study. Parents simply lack options. Many cobble together care that may interfere with employment, or they drive an hour or more out of their way each day. In some areas, infant wait lists are over one year, and there is a potential need for 1,381 additional child care spaces today.
Licensed child care costs 53 percent more here — at an average $11,000 to $13,000 annually — than the Colorado school district median. It’s as high as college tuition.
Colorado demographic data reflects an “out-migration” of residents, beginning around age 32. An inability to find affordable, accessible and quality child care is one reason, coupled with the lack of affordable housing. We are losing families during their prime workforce years, and just as they begin to put down the roots that make a community vibrant.
Additionally, children are starting kindergarten unprepared, lacking a preschool or other early learning experience. The literature is clear that this is where the achievement gap begins. We can do better for our youngest citizens.
The county/school district study includes a road map to a sustainable system, but it will need funding. In 2017, we will use part of the county’s “rainy day fund” to address the most crucial aspects, while deciding whether to go to the voters later. To sum it up, the county commissioners view early childhood care and learning as critical community and workforce infrastructure, similar to housing.
• Kathy Chandler-Henry, Democratic incumbent in Commissioner District 1, which runs from roughly Eagle to Edwards.
Eagle County has long supported child care programs, including Early Head Start and the Colorado Child Care Assistance Program. These early learning programs not only are critical stopgaps for working parents, they are incredible investments.
According to the White House Study on Early Childhood Investment (2014), expanding early learning initiatives provides benefits to society of roughly $8.60 for every $1 spent, about half of which comes from increased earnings for children when they grow up. In Eagle County, we have both capacity and affordability issues. It can cost more for early child care than for college tuition, and care for infants is at a shortage throughout the county.
We all have a role here: families, the school district, nonprofits, towns and the county. We considered long and hard a ballot issue asking voters to fund a .3 percent sales tax to create a revenue stream for early childhood, but ultimately decided this is not the right time.
We have several innovative programs in the works, in both the Eagle River and Roaring Fork sides of the county. Through discussions with the community we will decide if and when to present a ballot issue to voters. In the meantime, we have a crisis to contend with. We have centers closing because they can’t pay the rent, and workers faced with no slots available for their newborns.
My plan to support families who are feeling the very real effects of our childcare crisis is to support continued funding of Colorado Child Care Assistance Program, Early Head Start and other proven programs while we work with our public and private partners to determine the best role of the county in the future.
• Rick Beveridge, Republican challenger in Commissioner District 2.
It’s incomprehensible to me that the current commissioners have directed staff to find $2 million for a band-aid for child care and early childhood education when operating at a deficit. I am very concerned that despite their unwillingness to ask the voters for permission via a ballot question, they are moving forward without a hard and specific plan.
Although I am very sensitive to this serious issue, I don’t believe that Eagle County should be solely responsible for solving this problem. Eagle County currently provides child care assistance to those in need through federal, state and county-funded programs.
I am in support of Eagle County joining forces with other public and private entities, including but not limited to businesses, churches, individual donors and schools to form a child care/early childhood education advisory committee. That committee, with the assistance of staff, would evaluate the findings of the Eagle County early childhood road map to come up with a plan and recommendations.
Although the road map provides a research-based blueprint, it does not provide a formal and concrete solution. I am in favor of our schools expanding their on-site pre-school programs and taking the lead role in early childhood education. It makes great financial sense to consider combining the Early Head Start program that the county administers and the Head Start program that the schools administer.