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Childcare experts call for public investment to help solve Wasatch Back crisis

Park City Municipal Corporation
The childcare center at the PC MARC.

Representatives of the Early Childhood Alliance and PC Tots told the Park City Council that the Wasatch Back is a child care desert, and without an investment boost, the situation is only going to get worse.

In Park City limits, licensed child-care providers can serve up to 573 children. That doesn’t even come close to matching the demand, especially given the number of commuters traveling to Park City for work from outside areas.

Kristen Schulz with the Early Childhood Alliance told the city council during its last meeting that there are roughly 1,800 children under the age of five within the Park City School District boundaries.

Part of the problem is that staffing child care centers is not easy.

Schulz said that nationally, an analysis of 2021 median hourly pay by the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that animal caretakers are paid more than childcare workers. She also said Utah early educators with a bachelor’s degree paid 29% less than K-8 system colleagues.

The Park City School District childcare center closed in September, in part due to inability to provide competitive wages.

Andrea Barnes is the outgoing director of PC Tots, a local nonprofit that cares for roughly 140 children. She said it isn’t just a Park City problem.

“The day that the Park City School District program closure was announced, five additional centers down in Salt Lake City were closed," Barnes said. "It’s a crisis, in not only this community, but statewide and nationally as well.”

A September study from the University of Utah’s Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute found that 38% of working Utah parents would change jobs if they were offered more childcare subsidies.

It also found that statewide roughly half of parents with kids under 6 would work more if they had high-quality, affordable childcare.

Barnes said PC Tots is currently fully staffed, but could soon be facing a large funding cliff without public investment.

The nonprofit covers half its operating costs through tuition, which averages around $1,800 per month for one child. The other half is collected through various sources, such as government assistance and donations.

In 2022, Summit County childcare providers will receive roughly $2.4 million in stabilization grants thanks to a pandemic stimulus passed in Washington D.C. However, that will soon run out, meaning providers may need to consider tuition increases or staff wage cuts.

Barnes mentioned a sales tax passed by the city of Aspen in 1989 that generates roughly $2 million per year for local childcare as a possible idea.

However, Colorado has home rule, which gives more power to cities and allows them to set their own sales tax rates. In Utah, the state legislature has final authority on taxation.

Parkite Abbey Eddy spoke at city council Thursday, alongside her 13-month old son Gus.

“The kind of running joke among parents in town is that daycare should be the first person to know that you’re pregnant, because spots are so limited,” she said.

Eddy works for a local nonprofit, and said she’s more fortunate than most, as she’s able to work flexible hours when her son is asleep. She made clear that the lack of availability is not the only problem.

“When Gus was about six months old we actually got a spot, but then it came down to the affordability piece. It was going to cost us over $20,000 a year to send him to that center, and when we did the math, it just didn’t quite make sense," Eddy said.

"The federal definition of affordable childcare is 7% of your annual income. That was going to be close to 20% of our annual income. And then you add taxes and a mortgage in Park City, and that just wasn’t realistic.”

Barnes and Schulz said they want to work with the city and the county to research investment options. The presentation to the council was a work session, not an action item.