Dillon Council supports the Child Care Assistance Program

Dillon City Council heard a presentation from members of the local childcare industry about a potential fund to support infant and young child education programs.
Luke Vidic / Summit Daily News

Leaders in the county early childhood care industry have given Dillon City Council hopes to start a county-wide early childhood education fund. The council unanimously agreed.

Early Childhood Options Executive Director Lucinda Burns, Director of Programs Catherine Schaaf and Program Chair Jennifer McAtamney, along with Dillon’s Chief Financial Officer Carrie McDonnell, provided the board with a “first stab” at the county-wide fund. The county currently funds childcare for children ages 3 to 4 through the Strong Future-SPK, according to a staff memo. Childcare leaders offered counselors hope for a similar city-funded program for infants and toddlers up to age 3.

Burns said conversations about workforce housing can be intertwined with early childhood education.

“Any argument you can make about affordable housing, the same argument can be applied to affordable, accessible, quality child care,” she said.

“When it comes to babies and young children, we’re pretty short,” Burns said.

I mentioned it 600 children are on the waiting list at the county level. In February, Shaaf said it could take one to two years for a place in one of the county’s child care centers to open.

Burns said Dillon will contribute a percentage of the total cost, and other cities across the county will drop proportionately. She said city and county managers have many relative models to work with and none have been selected yet. She said her team hopes to submit a final proposal to the towns before the end of the budget process at the end of the summer.

There is no specific cost for the program, but in conversations with McDonnel and the city, Dillon has determined that money already earmarked for Lake Dillon Preschool and the excess nicotine tax could put at least $125,000 into the program.

I’ve estimated, for 2023, the cost at the county level is somewhere around $1 million. Furthermore, she said she had no figures to present to the board. The conversation was about bringing up the conversation and answering early questions.

The need for the program stems from the inability of key workers to afford childcare. McAtamney described a common problem: People in their twenties move to the county for the mountain life, climb the corporate ladder to key county jobs, but are forced out when they try to start a family because they can’t afford early childcare.

Burns also said that the program will address unequal childcare options across the county.

“We really see some disparities across the county. We want to close that gap,” Burns said. Breckenridge and Frisco have their own early child care programs. The Town of Frisco has created a tuition assistance program for Frisco residents and Frisco corporate employees this spring. Schaaf said Breckenridge has offered childcare support for 15 years, and dumped some of its burden on the county when the county began its $2.5 million program for children ages 3 to 4, Schaaf said.

Additionally, early childhood educators may see a pay increase with the program. In order to have stable programs, teachers need to offer reasonable wages. Burns said. Burns had hoped the program would lead to more “competitive” pay for teachers, although her team said that might not necessarily mean a “live” wage in Summit County.

McDonnell said the program could also lead to more teachers being hired, which means more capabilities for potential students.

Maktamni said Summit County lost 1 in 4 families in 2007 due to a lack of affordable child care.

The money will go to child care centers licensed with approval from the Colorado Shines, a statewide rating and approval system for early learning programs, the presenters said.

Board members unanimously expressed their support for the programme. They have previously expressed support for a Breckenridge-like program at Dillon.