Tuition assistance helps Breckenridge residents combat rising child care costs
December 9, 2016
Child care costs are on the rise in the United States.
A partnership between Care.com and Washington-based think tank New America produced the Care Index, a study that ranked child care across the country based off cost, quality and availability.
The study showed that the national average for in-center care was $9,589 in 2016. That cost represents full-time care for one child throughout a whole year.
Colorado was ranked 17th on the list, with costs more than $1,000 above the national average.
For Breckenridge day care centers, the cost can be upwards of $17,000 annually depending on the age of the child. The cost of housing has also been rising in Summit, making it hard for many families to make ends meet. The good news, though, is that 47 percent of the families in Breckenridge are eligible to receive tuition assistance through the town.
In 2013, the town attempted to pass a property tax that would help to fund the child care program. The initiative was defeated by 75 votes. The town spent the next two years working on a child care needs assessment. The tuition assistance program was overhauled, and the council eventually decided to fund it through 2021.
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"This is money well spent, because if Breckenridge helps promote child care, we have both parents working, both parents living within the community because they can afford to live here and have child care for their children," said Councilman Jeffrey Bergeron. "Then it also stimulates the year-round economy, let alone keeps good people in our community rather than a turnover where people come here, love it, but they find that this town is not sustainable for a family."
For Jennifer McAtamney, the child care program coordinator for Breckenridge, employee housing and child care are intimately linked. As workers in the county long-term housing, they are better able to settle down and begin families. Through a survey on families with children in Breckenridge schools, she found that 46 percent of families would have to leave the county if they found child care too expensive.
"We want to stay a real community, and the only way we can do that is by actively work toward it," McAtamney said.
Getting child care in Breckenridge to where it is today took work. Previously, McAtamney spent two terms on Breckenridge's Town Council. During her tenure, the housing and child care committee was formed in 2007.
The task force and council were able to improve child care provider turnover by increasing salaries, as well as helping care centers with funding and mortgages. High turnover is something that McAtamney said impacts the quality of care that these centers can provide.
In 2008, the town opened the Timberline Learning Center to help cut down on the town's wait list for child care. Today, the town has 250 children in child care.
Morgan Thompson, the assistant director at Little Red SchoolHouse in Breckenridge, said that the school has been one of the lucky ones. More than half of their staff of 20 has been there for more than five years. Thompson, who has been at the school for 12 years, and in child care in the town for 17, said that turnover impacts both the children and the parents and how they bond with teachers.
"When we do have turnover, we see a significant difference in child behavior," she said.
Breckenridge is beginning to see wait lists for child care programs again, something Thompson said is directly linked to the town's funding of the tuition program.
"It's a good thing that now these families can afford care," she said.
After running for mayor, and losing to Eric Mamula earlier this year, McAtamney found her way to her current position in May.
"Now I have the opportunity, having worked on the program for 10 years, there's a lot of things I've wanted to do over time and now I get to work on them," she said.
She has used her tech background to make applying for tuition assistance easier using an online application called Fluid Review. The same program allowed her to pull data from applicants to better understand family income in Breckenridge.
"You make good decisions when you have good data," she said.
Through surveying families using child care in the town, McAtamney found that on average, the families using tuition assistance spend 10 years in the community. She also put together information on what family budgets look like for locals, to see how much of their income goes toward childcare, and what impact tuition assistance has.
"As a tax payer without children, I think for me it is a small price to pay to keep our community vibrant and keep it like a community, not just a resort," Bergeron said.
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