Breckenridge preschool goes from waiting lists to falling enrollment
Summit Daily News
BRECKENRIDGE – Where Breckenridge’s pre-schools once had waiting lists hundreds of students long, the schools are now having to find ways to grapple with low enrollment rates as parents struggle with recession budget crunches.
In the last few months, the Timberline Learning Center has experienced a 10 percent or more decrease in enrollment, a result, they say, of a weak economy that’s wearing on parents’ budgets and compelling them to find ways to care for their children at home.
“It’s an amazing shift that’s happened that no one could have predicted,” Timberline director Leslie Davis said of the swing from waitlists to falling enrollment. “Our understanding is that it’s pure economics. We haven’t lost families to other centers, we’ve just lost families who’ve pulled kids out of child care.”
Which, the data says, is not the best thing for the children.
Kids enrolled in early childhood education prior to beginning kindergarten are more likely to stay in school, stay out of trouble and be successful later in life, Davis said.
So both Timberline and the Town of Breckenridge are stepping up to help parents afford and manage preschool for their kids. Timberline is extending its hours, declining to raise its rates this year – as it and other schools have done in the past – and offering enrichment programs. Meanwhile, the town has implemented a scholarship program that provides monthly assistance to the families of about half the students enrolled in early childhood education programs.
Seeing that the high cost of child care and, at one point its lack of availability, in Breckenridge, was driving members of the workforce out of the community, the town began subsidizing the service as a way of helping employees afford to stay in Breck.
“We looked at the whole problem,” Breckenridge Councilwoman Jen McAtamney said. “We were losing people at the county level and employees all over town because they couldn’t find child care. So this became a really compelling place to put some public funds.”
Today, the public funds have helped the existing preschools with some overhead expenses and fostered the creation of the Timberline Learning Center in addition to funding the scholarship program.
The scholarships, which are available to parents living or working in Breckenridge, provide parents with up to $600 a month to help with expenses.
“Some of the people who get the smallest scholarship are so thankful for it,” McAtamney said. “And then we get other people who are like, ‘We would have had to move.'”
The scholarship program also helps supplement a state child care funding program, which once put an increased financial burden on the schools.
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