GUEST OPINION: Can COVID-19 relief funds solve county’s child care needs?

Editor’s note: This is the third part in a series of columns from the Brown County Community Foundation Chief Executive Officer Maddison Miller about the issues of affordable child care and how they can be addressed locally.

By MADDISON MILLER, guest columnist

In previous articles, I’ve touched on both the economic impacts and academic importance of early childhood education programs. I’ve also discussed different ways to fund desperately needed community child care programs here in Brown County.

An opportunity currently presents itself in the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund, part of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). Brown County is set to receive nearly $3 million in relief funds, which can be invested into a broad range of programs, services and projects that support the public health response; address negative economic impacts caused by COVID-19; replace lost revenue; provide premium pay to essential workers; and invest in water, sewer and broadband infrastructure.

As previously reported by the Brown County Democrat, our county commissioners have appropriated over $1.4 million on regional sewer district and stormwater projects, flood control and premium pay for county employees. With over $1.5 million left to allocate, I am hopeful our county will consider supporting the local child care and early education sector as a critical service that keeps families working and the economy growing.

Families with young children have been among those most impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. Parents and family members have struggled caring for children at home alongside the demands of work; children have fought to keep pace with virtual learning; and private providers have endeavored to keep their business afloat despite decreasing revenues and increasing costs. As a result, counties around our nation are using a portion of these critical recovery funds to invest in programs that expand affordable child care and support educational opportunities.

For example, Cumberland County, Maine is utilizing funds to develop a workforce training program for child care providers to expand capacity. Washington, D.C. has invested in a program that provides high school students the opportunity to obtain a child development associate (CDA) while earning their diploma. This project is nearly identical to our work at the Brown County Early Education Center (EEC) where high school students will participate in an early childhood education pathway of study, graduating with CDA credentials that make them immediately employable.

Deschutes County, Oregon is assisting residents with their return-to-work by expanding child care access. They are funding a center that will create 70 to 100 new seats. This project is similar to our work at the EEC, where we will soon create 20 new preschool seats and 10 new 2-year-old toddler seats with a long-term goal of expanding service to 1-year-olds and newborns.

On April 6 I presented these examples, among others, to the Brown County Commissioners to demonstrate how other local leaders are investing pandemic recovery funds in high quality early education programs, which ensure their communities are places of opportunity, where children can develop and thrive and where families are supported as they return to work.

I also outlined considerations based on research into the high economic returns from early childhood education investments. My presentation accompanied a formal request of $195,000 in ARPA funds to support our community’s new Early Education Center (EEC). These dollars would help fully fund the center’s opening for the next year, will directly support salary and benefits for employees and ultimately act as a subsidy that will keep the program affordable to families.

This community has a long history of financially supporting education. Brown County has demonstrated an overwhelming commitment to our children by bolstering preschool scholarships, sustaining the Career Resource Center, passing referenda and being vocal advocates for our school corporation. As we look toward the next phase of supporting youth development in our community, ARPA dollars are one more tool at our disposal to support the 75% of children aged 0-5 in Brown County who are in need of care.

Maddison Miller is the chief executive officer of the Brown County Community Foundation. BCCF’s preschool scholarship program ensures every child in Brown County, regardless of their family’s income, has access to high quality early childhood education. In the 2020-2021 school year, they provided funding for 27 children to attend preschool. Annually, BCCF provides around $1 million in grants to support broad areas of community need – education, social services, health care, arts and humanities and environment – to help build a stronger, healthier Brown County.