Silverthorne shows interest in joining efforts to develop a countywide child care assistance program

Children enjoy the Playhouse Project creations at the Marina Park in Dillon on Friday, Aug. 6, 2021. In Silverthorne, town leaders have expressed interest in joining a countywide assistance program for child care. As costs of day care have risen, leaders across the county have looked for more options to expand access to care.
Tripp Fay/Summit Daily News archive

Leaders for the town of Silverthorne have expressed interest in helping begin a countywide child care tuition assistance program for families who need help affording the growing costs of sending their children to day care. 

Lucinda Burns, executive director of Early Childhood Options, said that simplifying and standardizing how families can receive assistance is the ultimate goal. 

“They’re confusing to families, no question about it, because there are different programs and they’re kind of scattered in different places and managed in different ways,” she said.

The two largest assistance programs are both locally funded. One is funded through Strong Futures and funds tuition credits for 3- and 4-year-olds across the county. The other is a program that supports children in Breckenridge.

The town of Breckenridge has had its own child care tuition assistance program since 2007, but it only covers families who live or work in the Upper Blue Basin. It provides assistance to families on a sliding scale: the lower a family’s income, the more assistance it receives and vice versa.

This year, the program raised its threshold, in part, to cover families that make up to 180% of the county’s area median income to coincide with raised rates. Higher rates aim to aid staff retention and provide full-time teachers with higher base incomes. 

Jennifer McAtamney, executive director of Building Hope Summit County and chair of the Early Childhood Options board, was a Breckenridge Town Council member and managed the assistance program in the town. She said that by raising rates, schools create a more economically sustainable model for themselves and can provide high-quality care for students. Increased accessibility for Breckenridge’s program means that any higher rates would be absorbed by the program and not parents. 

“Rewards would range anywhere on the low end and would be $50 to $100 a month for a family that was at a higher income level and not using a lot of care, too,” McAtamney said. “I would say a very low-income family … might be seeing instead of a $1,500 bill … a $400 bill. So those awards were pretty substantial. Those were families that were probably most important for them to have their kids in care.”

This new assistance program would cover families across Summit County. Burns said she and other child care leaders have traveled around the county to speak with various town leaders about coming together to build one program. Each town would pay in an amount to support the assistance to all families instead of each town having its own. 

“We anticipate that the preschool portion, which is a much larger number of children attending child care, will cost about just a little over $2 million in the program year 2022-23,” she said. “For birth to 3-years-old, it will cost about $1 million. It will go up when a new center gets added because we’ll have more enrollees.”

Currently, there are about 600 children that are on a child care waitlist in Summit County. Earlier this year, Silverthorne — along with Summit County leaders — kicked off construction on the Wildflower Forest Preschool, a child care center near the Smith Ranch community. When finished, Wildflower Forest Preschool will host between 65 to 70 children for day care.  

Town Council members agreed that joining would be a win-win for all of the town’s residents and for the county program, and since it will be an ongoing contribution, annual discussion will be needed to talk about where the money comes from. Town Manager Ryan Hyland said that using some of the town’s tobacco funds could apply to whatever contribution the town needs to make to the program. For now, though, allocation formulas and other agreements are still up for discussion. 

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