Park City Council approves $1 million to expand child care and education

Early Childhood Alliance grateful to the unanimous vote

Park City Councilwoman Becca Gerber is credited with helping to steer a new, $1 million Park City Municipal investment in area child care.
Park Record file photo by David Jackson

In a unanimous vote on Thursday, June 22, the Park City Council approved a $1 million investment to expand early childhood education and care programs as part of its 2024 budget.

The vote is positive step in the eyes of the Park City Community Foundation’s Early Childhood Alliance, which has been working on securing a program for accessible child care for working families in the community, said Kristen Schulz, Early Childhood Alliance director.

“I’m so thankful for the leadership that Park City is showing in recognizing the need for accessible and affordable childcare,” she said. “There are a lot of communities around the country that are doing similar things, so we’re not on our own, and I’m super thankful that the city recognizes it can help address this need.”

The Early Childhood Alliance’s mission is to support children and parents with prioritized, accessible and equitable programming in the Wasatch Back. Child care has been a hot topic in the Park City area in the past few years. There are two separate but related issues that need to be addressed, according to Schulz.

“First, we do not have enough supply of regulated child care to meet the demand in our community,” she said. “There is a joke circulating that says when people get pregnant the first person they tell is the potential child care provider, because they need to get on a wait list.”

The second issue is affordability, Schulz said.

“If you’re on a waiting list and get the call that tells parents they have a spot for their kids, it’s becoming more difficult for parents to cover the cost of high-quality childcare,” she said. “This is especially hard for medium- and lower-income families.”

The next step is figuring out how the funding will be used to help ease the burdens of these issues, and how the programming will be available to families, Schulz said.

“The city has created a work group to decide how the funds will be used … we had our first meeting last week,” she said.

The work group consists of Schulz, Park City staff members, Park City Community Foundation Chief Operating Officer and President Joel Zarrow and PC Tots, a local early childhood development center, which is also reaching out to other local providers, Schulz said.

“The work group will work over the next month or so to come up with several options of how to invest the money, and then have the City Council ultimately decide where the funds will go,” she said.

Zarrow, in a statement, said supporting the program is vital for the community’s working families.

“Park City’s investment is a crucial piece, and we commend the city for their decision to get involved,” he said. “But to truly address the early care and education crisis, we need everyone to take part and increase funding over the long term, including governments at all levels, the business community, philanthropy, and parents.”

Whether the funds will be accessible through tuition stipends, scholarships or other means, and what criteria families must meet to qualify for access to the programing, is yet to be determined, Schulz said.

“We proposed that the city administer these funds, because while the Early Childhood Alliance advocated and suggested this program, it’s not intended for us to receive this money,” she said. “So, there needs to be more discussions about how to best use the funds that are available.”

Schulz praised Park City Councilwoman Becca Gerber, who has seen the importance of having accessible and affordable child care in the community.

“Recognizing the critical importance of early childhood development, Park City has taken the lead among Utah municipalities by prioritizing the well-being and educational needs of its children, as well as addressing the needs of our families and workforce,” Gerber said in a statement. “This historic investment underscores the community’s commitment to provide a nurturing and stimulating environment that will lay a strong foundation for future generations.”

The program will help some Park City parents continue to have access to reasonably affordable, high-quality early care, after Summit County’s upcoming loss of $2.5 million in federal funding in September after the Community Recovery Assistance Grants that were distributed during the pandemic slow down, Schultz said.

“The gap between local affordable child care needs and supply is massive, and it’s about to get much worse with the upcoming loss of federal funding to child care providers,” she said. “Investments toward this program help bridge the affordability gap in childcare and support our local child care providers who directly contribute to the well-being of the entire community.”

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