Montrose, CO — Like the rest of Colorado, Montrose suffers from an extreme lack of affordable childcare resources. Studies show a lack of affordable childcare can hinder economic growth when employees have limited options for childcare during working hours. Recently, the City of Montrose was selected to receive a $600,000 grant through a partnership with Maslow Academy, which also operates Bright Beginnings Preschool, to address the shortage of childcare, especially within infant and toddler ages.
According to 2016 federal census data, Montrose had 2,312 children under the age of five and only 641 available licensed infant, toddler, and preschool childcare slots. That is 3.6 children per available slot. In the two-weeks-to-two-years-old age group, there are approximately 85 licensed slots in Montrose. In contrast, 437 babies were born in Montrose during 2017, according to Leann Tobin at Montrose Memorial Hospital.
"It's not enough; it's just not enough," said Chrissy Simmons, the executive director and principal of Maslow Academy of Applied Learning and Bright Beginnings Preschool.
Maslow Academy is a Colorado non-profit 501(c) 3 organization that provides childcare and preschool education for infants six weeks of age through fifth grade. Bright Beginnings Preschool, which is also housed at Maslow Academy, serves children six weeks to age four.
In February, the city partnered with Maslow Academy to submit a grant application to the Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA). At the beginning of July, the city was notified it would receive $600,000 in Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds from DOLA to assist Maslow with purchasing property the academy currently leases at 120 North Hillcrest Drive in Montrose.
Maslow Academy met the federal low-to-moderate income requirements to be eligible for the CDBG grant. The requirement is for Maslow to ensure that at least 51-percent of its service slots are provided to low-income earning households for five years. Currently more than half of the children served at Maslow are from low-to-moderate income households, according to Simmons.
The grant funds can and will be used for capital purchases, Simmons said. This allows Maslow to purchase the land and school buildings Maslow currently leases. This change in ownership will significantly reduce the school’s facility costs. The savings will go toward increasing employee compensation as required by Amendment 70 and the increased minimum wage rules.
"For us, it is sustainability for our business; purchasing the real estate will allow us to grow and expand in the future," Simmons said. "We want to be able to serve the community at a higher level because the need is enormous."
For Simmons, the availability of childcare is a significant issue facing Montrose as the city continues to grow. Simmons said the lack of childcare from birth to kindergarten onward has serious social, education, and economic implications for local families. The issue also presents a serious barrier to maintaining and bolstering sustainable business growth in Montrose.
As companies and other employers look at Montrose for possible investment, Simmons said a key factor in their decision-making is the availability of affordable childcare.
Local employers face challenges and costs stemming from workforce instability, increased employee absences, and lower productivity. A federal study said women, after giving birth, can be less likely to return to work if affordable childcare is not an option for them. More childcare options lead to a higher-quality labor supply that can boost production and retention of skilled workers, according to the study.
"We need to be sustainable because it is a huge support for our economy. Childcare, infant care is important for employers who want to recruit, hire and retain quality employees; they need a place for they children to go."
Maslow Academy is one of three licensed childcare centers in Montrose serving infants and toddlers. Simmons said parents are constantly dealing with long waiting lists to get their children into available slots. And often, Simmons said, she will refer them to the two other centers to see what their availability is.
In addition to the CDBG funds, Maslow Academy was recently awarded a $133,000 grant from the Buell Foundation to also help with the capital purchase.
"These two grants are going to drastically reduce our mortgage, and that allows us to be sustainable," Simmons said.
According to statewide data, Montrose has relatively high numbers of children living in poverty, receiving WIC assistance vouchers, and being born to mothers without a high school diploma or GED.
In Montrose, 25.2-percent of children are considered to be living in poverty, as compared to the Colorado average of 14.8-percent. More than 66-percent of children in Montrose receive WIC assistant vouchers, more than double the Colorado rate of 31.6-percent.
The grant will enable Maslow to reduce operational costs and prevent a reduction in slots committed to low-to-moderate-income households. Having affordable childcare will give parents opportunities to work or seek high education or job training.
"When we think about our overall economy in Montrose, quality childcare should be looked at as a priority," Simmons said.
The CDBG funding requires the city to be a fiscal pass-through entity for non-profit groups like Maslow who qualify for CDBG funds. The city will serve as the fiscal administrative entity but has no financial obligation to the grant, other than administrative time.
The city regularly supports public-serving, non-profit partners without charging administrative fees or collecting a percentage of the awarded grant funds. This policy was created by City Manager Bill Bell to make sure all grant funds awarded through the city—non-profit partnerships go directly to serving the public.
“This grant award continues the city’s success of partnering with community nonprofits to utilize CDBG funds in innovative ways to improve our community. The Department of Local Affairs has invested millions of dollars in Montrose projects over the last several years, which demonstrates its desire to see Montrose succeed,” said grant coordinator Kendall Cramer.
The city seeks to support the capital funding needs of nonprofits in the community through the CDBG program, which brings outside money into the city. These projects would be delayed or never pursued if not for the CDBG program and the support of the city. Recent examples of city support for CDBG projects include The PIC Place, Center for Mental Health, and Sharing Ministries.
“It’s been great (working with the city). Lori Sharp, who is our grant writer, provided information to Kendall and then we worked together on the application. The city has always been supportive of us, and it was great to know they had our back through the grant process,” Simmons said. “They (the city) understand the need for high-quality early childcare in Montrose.”
There have been dozens of childcare centers open and close over the years in Montrose because the cost of operation can be too cumbersome.
Simmons said operating childcare centers in rural Colorado is very different than in larger cities. Maslow, for example, charges less than what centers in larger cities do because socioeconomic factors of rural areas limit what people can afford.
The problem in Montrose, Simmons explained, is balancing the true cost of care — meaning the amount it takes to run a business and sustain a business — and provide the level of quality care that is needed for parents to trust a childcare center. These financial factors can be daunting for business owners looking to open a childcare center in Montrose.
"Montrose just does not have that capability right now," Simmons said. "We charge about half or a little more than what they charge in the big cities because they can handle that a little more, but we can’t. And when we are required to follow the same licensing rules, or retain the same high-quality teachers – that we can’t pay as much as we want to – but still run a business and stay open is why so many other places close. Grants are the lifeline for us."
In recent years, the city has taken steps to modify zoning regulations to make it easier for centers to open in Montrose. Simmons said these steps would help in the future for young working families as they choose Montrose to call home.
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