Breckenridge child care questions: Scholarships cover fraction of cost for families
Read the first installment in the series here:
Editor’s note: This is the second in a three-part series that will explore the specifics and beneficiaries of the Breckenridge child care scholarship program in light of two ballot questions that both the town and Summit County government are looking to put before voters to fund early childhood education programs. Part three will appear Wednesday and will offer a closer look at the various child care options in Summit County and the kind of care provided by local child care centers.
Breckenridge’s controversial child care scholarship program — which officials will ask voters to back with a new property tax in November — provides only a small supplement toward the total cost of care for most families, data obtained by the Summit Daily shows.
“It’s expected that a family will spend between 12 and 15 percent of their income on child care no matter what our scholarship program provides,” Breckenridge Councilwoman Jen McAtamney said. “We provide the scholarship to cover the cost of care above that, to close that gap.”
Everyday costs, such as diapers and doctors appointments, are not included in the 12-15 percent calculation.
The average scholarship award is $280 per month. In 2007, the average family was paying just shy of $500 a month for care, but rates have increased in recent years. Breckenridge’s four child care centers charged an average of $63 per day last year for children up to 3 years old, which works out to a cost of more than $1,200 per month for one child in full-time care.
Tuition for kids between 3 and 5 years old is, on average, $59 per day, working out to more than $1,100 per month.
For parents like Elisabeth Lawrence, the scholarship provided a small amount of assistance with a big financial burden.
“There were moments, and I think tons of families felt that way, (we considered) if someone tried to work from home, can someone work fewer days or take the child to work with them,” Lawrence said. “I know other families are faced with, should we not live here?”
Before the scholarship program was implemented in 2007, a town needs study showed that many parents — who at the time were paying approximately $47 per child per day for care — thought the cost of tuition was manageable, but a third still found the expense to be difficult to cover and had to cut back on other things. At the time, child care centers were also struggling. Their daily rates did not cover the actual cost of caring for a child, which was estimated to be closer to $55-$60 per day, according to the survey. As a result, the salaries for teachers, many of whom had post secondary or higher education, remained low and turnover rates were high.
“These are women who have gone to school for this and are really passionate” McAtamney said. “But they couldn’t afford to live here.”
The town instructed the child care centers, most of which are nonprofit organizations, to begin raising salaries and tuition rates, and the scholarship program was introduced the same year to begin helping families deal with the increased financial burden.
For taxpayers, now with 187 kids receiving scholarship awards, the total cost amounts to $558,000 a year. The ballot question in November will request approval of a 1.6 mil property tax increase to provide an estimated $800,000 a year for the program, allowing for some increase.
Town officials say they opted for a property tax, because an existing property tax — approved by voters several years ago to finance the construction of several public facilities, including the Breckenridge Recreation Center — is ending and because the business community indicated they would prefer it to a sales tax.
“We’re asking for less money and people’s property taxes will go down,” McAtamney said. “It will replace the existing mil levy at a lower rate, and that seemed like a good way to continue funding it.”
Still the program, and the associated tax question, have gotten mixed reviews. Support is soft among older voters. Only 50 percent of people over the age of 55 said they would vote for the measure, according to the results of a recent voter survey.
“If it’s a property tax, it all gets passed through to consumers eventually if you own a business or rent your property,” Upper Blue resident Debby Tyber, who opposes the tax, said in an email to the Daily. “I’m not convinced that our housing market is that strong that buyers would ignore the property taxes. Towns can only squeeze so much out of you for the ‘feel good’ projects.”
Still, the survey shows that a large number of locals support the tax, with 61 percent indicating they would vote yes, and the number increasing when researchers indicated how the money would be spent.
“Clearly, Summit County and Breckenridge voters want families that live there currently to be able to stay there, raise their family and provide for a stronger year-round work force and economy,” the study, commissioned by Summit County government and conducted by Public Opinion Strategies states. “Fully 48 percent said that this message was a very convincing reason to support the measure, and 84 percent said it was at least very or somewhat convincing.”
The request comes as the state, which also provides assistance to low-income families through the Colorado Child Care Assistance Program (CCCAP) is scaling back funding. The program was frozen during the 2011-12 school year, according to a town of Breckenridge report, and of the 33 Breckenridge children who receive the state assistance, 70 percent — a total of 23 kids — were phased off last year.
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