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Kids First is critical link in affordable daycare

Shirley Ritter

Kids First would like to respond to Roger Marolt’s assertion that we are “doing nothing.”

On the contrary, we are doing a lot of good things to help local early childhood programs and families with young children who use childcare in Pitkin County.

Since 1990, the city of Aspen has helped to provide funding for early childhood care and education in Pitkin County with over $3 million awarded in grants to early childhood education programs and over $1 million in financial aid to help families, in those two programs alone.

In 2003, we provided $283,899 in childcare financial aid to over 70 families (95 children). Additional funds provide for technical assistance, resource teachers, education events, nurse and mental health consultations, incentive awards for childcare staff, and for parent-referral services and consumer education offered by the staff at the Kids First office.

In 2004, grants to 16 licensed childcare programs and over 75 staff, for capital improvements, teacher education and infant/toddler subsidies totaled $456,472.

Kids First paid over $109,000 to early childhood education staff as education and wellness incentives over the last 12 months. These incentives help to retain teachers in their jobs and lower the turnover rate that characterizes many jobs locally. Last September we paid 49 qualifying teachers, this March we paid 64 qualifying teachers. More teachers are staying in their jobs – that’s meeting our goal.

The Aspen Valley Community Foundation’s Early Childhood Education Initiative partners with Kids First to provide services to childcare programs and families from Aspen to Parachute. This is a five-year, $1.25 million commitment that demonstrates confidence in our ability to deliver.

Nationally, high-quality childcare is not adequately funded under normal market conditions. Barriers such as low pay, lack of benefits, teacher turnover and lack of specialized training make high-quality childcare difficult to provide as a business, and difficult to afford for parents. Knowing this, the courageous, wise, forward-thinking local electorate passed the affordable housing/daycare sales tax, and Kids First was formed to support a better local early childhood system.

Kids First is not squandering its money but achieving real results in improving the early childhood system of care and education in Pitkin County. In fact, at our current level of funding to programs and families, the reserve fund will be depleted after 2010.

In these tight economic times, we have been grateful that a reserve fund was available and that we did not spend precious staff time pleading for funding. We deeply regret Mr. Marolt’s ineffectual comments about our programs and want our community to know that we are here, working hard on the issues that make childcare a challenging field. In short, we are no joke.

Shirley Ritter is director of Kids First.


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