Opinion | Linda Harmon: Where do all the little children go? | SummitDaily.com

Opinion | Linda Harmon: Where do all the little children go?

Affordable housing is only one piece of the puzzle for maintaining our workforce in Summit County. The other important element is affordable, reliable child care so parents can go to work. It has been a very important challenge for our hardworking public officeholders and nonprofit professionals working to address the issue. Even though it doesn’t always appear this way, Summit County is proactively addressing the issue.

“Summit County is doing an amazing job with child care issues,” Early Childhood Options Executive Director Lucinda Burns said. “Whenever I work with my counterparts throughout the state, I’m always very proud of the work we are doing.”

Should our county commissioners make child care and preschool a high priority? You bet, and here’s why.

Years ago, three economists — Christopher R. Walters, Guthrie Gray-Lobe and Parag A. Pathak — conducted a study on the effects of early childhood education. After following 4,000 4-year-olds for five years, they found that preschool has a very large affect on kids, a finding consistent with other studies. They learned that kids in preschool have a high school graduation rate of 70%, 6% higher than children who didn’t attend preschool. Additionally, 54% of the preschool attendees graduated from college, 8% higher than those who did not attend preschool. Walters, an economist at UC Berkeley, believes it’s not just the impact on test scores, it’s the behavioral or socio-emotional, noncognitive impact. This study showed that preschool seems to make children more disciplined and motivated, which can have a tremendous effect on their future livelihoods and the impact they make on their communities.

Knowing the importance of this issue, county leaders set out to find productive solutions. In 2018, they put the Strong Future ballot initiative 1A before voters. While the progressive side was happy to financially support the new tax, there was strong opposition from county conservatives because they didn’t see the value of throwing money at child care and early childhood education. The conservatives didn’t win the argument, and 1A became law with flying colors. Those who argued against it also lost their bids for public office. Ultimately, passing 1A gave the county $2.5 million per year for affordable early childhood care and learning.

Once funding was approved, the question became, “How do we spend the money?”

Is it best to build more facilities so we can increase the number of children attending, or do we subsidize those who cannot afford child care and preschool? How about paying early childhood teachers higher wages to attract and retain talented individuals?

Knowing how vital child care is to keeping parents working, our county leaders set out to address one of the most pressing parts of problem.

“Summit County’s early childhood education centers and in-home care providers are a vital component of the social infrastructure in our resort-based economy,” Summit County Commissioner Josh Blanchard said.

County commissioners, along with the nonprofit Early Childhood Options, have been working hard to find solutions. They recently announced funds from 1A will provide salary increases for early childhood teachers in the hopes they can fill the numerous openings for teachers and retain those we have.

On the building front, the county joined forces with the town of Silverthorne to build a child care facility by Smith Ranch. The facility is costing $4 million to design, engineer and construct. The county is paying $3 million while the town is paying $1 million. Additionally, the town is covering the land property management as well as subsidizing $125,000 annually for operations.

Meanwhile, Lake Dillon Theatre Co. also hopes to be part of the solution by offering a creative approach to child care services. Theater Director Chris Alleman hopes to use the arts to teach math, science and English.

Fiscal conservatives probably hate spending this much money on child care, but how does a tourism community keep the economy going when so many service workers need child care?

“Without child care, I don’t know that we will be able to get our workforce completely back up and going,” Burns said.

By providing more affordable, reliable child care, we can create a positive future for Summit County where more residents can work knowing their young children are in good hands. Plus, their children will have a better future with an early childhood education.

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