Frisco pursuing child care tuition assistance to make preschool more affordable

Town of Breckenridge offered to administer the program for $7,500 a year

Summit County Preschool is pictured Aug. 28, 2018, along Main Street in Frisco. The town of Frisco working to implement a child care tuition assistance program to make preschool more affordable for local families.
Hugh Carey/Summit Daily News archive

Like housing, the issue of affordable and accessible child care in Summit County affects many residents. Based on the 2020 census, there are 1,426 children under the age of 5 in the county, with 26 licensed providers who have an estimated 611 licensed slots for children 5 and younger.

“We recognize that this is critical subject matter,” Frisco Town Manager Tony O’Rourke said at a town work session Nov. 9. ” … At the end of the day, we’re in a system that’s plagued by a lack of slots for kids, inadequate compensation, benefits and housing for their staff and a tremendously high financial burden on parents.”

O’Rourke said fixing the child care issue is a challenging, fragmented and expensive proposition. Following up on a similar discussion from January, Frisco Town Council was still in favor of pursuing a tuition-assistance program similar to one in the town of Breckenridge. Its program helps pay preschool tuition for families who make up to 150% of the area median income — or up to $144,150 for a family of four — and whose child care cost exceeds 13% to 16% of their gross income.

O’Rourke estimated monthly tuition for Summit County Preschool — a nonprofit that is Frisco’s only privately managed day care — costs $3,102 for two children. With an annual tuition of $37,224, that means a Frisco family of four would spend about 39% of its income on child care if they make 100% of the area median, or $96,100.

According to Summit County Preschool’s director, there are 54 children currently enrolled, and roughly half of the children’s families work or live in Frisco. The school has the capacity to serve 79 children; however, due to staffing issues, it cannot enroll more students in order to maintain the teacher-to-child ratios required by the state.

Additionally, there are two in-home day care providers in Frisco. Those providers receive no money from the town of Frisco, whereas the town usually gives more than $65,000 to the preschool each year.

One solution O’Rourke mentioned included increasing teacher wages, which are currently $16.61 an hour at the preschool. It would cost the town roughly $60,000 a year for every dollar per hour increase for the school staff as well as the in-home providers. Council did not support the idea.

“I think it’s a slippery slope to do wage assistance for these individual businesses,” Council member Andy Held said. “They absolutely need to get paid more, but I don’t think it’s up to us to pay them more.”

Another solution mentioned was housing assistance, such as the four units at Mary Ruth Place dedicated to the local workforce. Council member Melissa Sherburne said she didn’t like limiting the use of thee town-owned rental units.

“I’m not in favor of us providing housing specifically for child care,” Sherburne said. “We cannot choose between a teacher or a child care worker or (a health care worker). In my opinion, that’s not up us.”

Ultimately, Town Council felt the tuition assistance was the best move. Council currently has $250,000 earmarked in the 2022 budget for child care, and the town of Breckenridge has offered to administer the program for $7,500 a year.

The program aims to reduce the cost for Frisco families that fall between 73% and 150% of area median income, and O’Rourke estimates there are 40 to 50 families who reside or work in Frisco that need child care. Following the model of the average, annual assistance grant of $6,000 in Breckenridge, that means it would cost the town of Frisco between $240,000 to $300,000 a year.

“The Breck offer is so generous — not from an economic standpoint, but from an administrative standpoint,” Council member Andrew Aerenson said. “It represents everything we want to be doing, which is collaborating, bringing this into a county system, and it will hopefully evolve. … (The Breckenridge program) seems to be a very well-regarded program.”

With Summit County Preschool at capacity, Town Council was in favor of expanding the program beyond Frisco as well as looking at other buildings — such as the current location of the Peak School if it relocates — to help. O’Rourke said he plans to bring more details back to council at an upcoming meeting to get the program underway by the beginning of the new year.

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