Summit County officials may spend over $5 million on early childhood initiatives in 2024

County leaders anticipate even greater need next year for child care assistance with one new center open and another on the way

Robert Tann/Summit Daily News
Summit County Commissioner Elisabeth Lawrence speaks to residents about child care options in the county during a community forum on May 10, 2023. Officials have proposed spending more than $5 million on early childhood initiatives in 2024, though that may increase to account for the county's new First Steps program.
Robert Tann/Summit Daily News

Spending by the Summit County government on early childhood programs could exceed $5 million next year as demand for child care and preschool remains high and with new facilities expected to take on more children. 

This would go towards covering the costs of staff salaries, home visitations, administration, facility maintenance and tuition assistance, according to budget proposals presented during a Tuesday, Nov. 7, Summit Board of County Commissioners meeting. 

It would not, however, cover the cost for Summit First Steps, a program launched earlier this year that provides child care subsidies for children between birth and age 3. Its counterpart, Summit PreK, launched in 2019 and uses money from the voter-approved Strong Future Fund to help pay for 3- to 5-year-old children to attend preschool. 

As they collect more data on the program, officials indicated there is likely to be a budget amendment to accommodate First Steps funding next year.

“I expect First Steps especially to grow during the year in 2024,” said Commissioner Elisabeth Lawrence. 

With the addition of a new child care center in Silverthorne, dubbed the Wildflower Nature School, as well as another facility currently under construction in Copper Mountain, county leaders said they expect to support around 140 more children next year

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Wildflower is currently not operating at full capacity, while the Copper Mountain center may not open until January or later, meaning the county may not need to approve additional funds for the First Steps program until mid-2024. 

About $2.4 million has been budgeted to pay for the preschool program in 2024, though town governments will also help subsidize that through their slice of the Strong Future Fund. Those credits are administered through the nonprofit Early Childhood Options. 

Around 181 4-year-olds in the county are receiving preschool subsidies through Colorado’s universal preschool program, which went into effect this school year, according to Early Childhood Options executive director Catherine Schaaf. Of those, 159 are receiving assistance through the county’s own preschool program, which is also serving about 125 3-year-olds. 

On average, the assistance covers about 74% of the cost of tuition, which for preschool can be around $1,500 per month per child Schaaf said. 

Lawrence asked Schaaf what increases the early childhood nonprofit had made in its budget request to keep up with the cost of living. 

“We were pretty conservative this year,” Schaaf said in regards to the budget request, which includes just over $1 million for salaries. 

The budget also calls for $218,663 for recruitment and retention, which supports scholarships and salary supplements for child care staff and in-home providers. In 2023, that spending was $299,074.

Lawrence said she would like to see that figure increased, adding, “I think we were just too conservative there and I want to make sure that you guys can keep a good staff this year.” 

Other spending is set to go to capital improvements for centers as well as home visitation and school readiness programs. 

The budget also includes $75,000 to pay for a child care needs assessment, which county officials said they’ve been wanting to see for years. 

“We had had some requests to both a child care needs assessment, which hasn’t been done since pre-COVID,” Lawrence said. “As well as a child care master plan for the whole county … so it’s kind of a roadmap for us going forward.” 

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