Group seeks grant for daycare expansion

Casey S. Elliott
Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Early childhood education and daycare options are a big need in Beaverhead County, and a local group is hoping to get a grant to expand area offerings.

Callie Triller with the Early Childhood Coalition of Beaverhead County discussed the potential grant and how it could help families across the county at a commission meeting May 2.

“Beaverhead and Mineral counties are the fastest growing for young families in Montana,” she said. “We want to help support this generation and this group of people.”

The Early Childhood Coalition is funded through a Headwaters Foundation grant. It is looking to obtain the $1 million American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) grant from funds set aside specifically for expanding childcare access.

Triller explained that of the daycares and preschool options in Dillon currently, there are not enough spots for people who have young children or have children on the way.

“For the number of children that need child care, there are not enough licensed spaces, and they don’t meet people’s needs for the times open, or the ages of the children,” she said.

Specifically, many daycares operate on an 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. time frame, which does not work for families that work later hours or longer hours. Many day cares do not have open slots for children in the 0-2 age range, and all operate on full-time care. Triller said if a person only needs someone to watch their child for half the day, they still have to pay the full day’s cost.

Triller said there is no state funding for daycare, so families pay full price to send their kids.

“It’s less expensive to offer care in Beaverhead County than it is in Bozeman or Missoula. In most places, daycare is comparable to in-state tuition per child. That’s the part that’s hard for parents to wrap their heads around,” she said. “That’s why they stay home – the math doesn’t work out.”

The county only has 57% of the slots needed for children to ensure that every adult who wanted to work could get care. Triller said when the group spoke with current daycare providers, none were interested in expanding their operations.

“Many existing providers offer in-home care, and based on the square footage, that is limited. Some just don’t want to expand, and are comfortable with the number of children they have. Providers are either limited in space, or location, or they just don’t want to change,” she said.

The grant would help the group expand the Canvas Early Learning Center early education program, which in addition to adding more slots for kids, would possibly move childcare back on the University of Montana Western campus.

Canvas is a non-profit child care space, and its managers have been talking with UMW officials about the potential to expand on campus. Expansion requires more staffing, which costs more money to operate. Finding staff is difficult, since those who would work in daycares often get paid double by becoming a kindergarten or first grade teacher, and get benefits on top of that.

“We want expanded offerings in the community, so folks who want to work and aren’t can now re-enter the workforce. But it’s also for families who consider wanting to move to Dillon or Beaverhead County, so they can work here.”

Commissioner and Chairman Mike McGinley asked if Canvas could be set up like an apprenticeship school in the state, to help students who may not want to go the traditional college path into the field, or college students working toward a degree to get more experience. Triller said that might be an option.

Triller said while the group is focusing on the Dillon area right now, they hope to expand to other towns and communities in the county which have the same issues.

The grant requires a 10% match, and Triller said she was hoping the county would consider writing a letter in support, or helping with the match money. She added they are working on developing the grant application, and exploring what options they have for match money if they get it.

McGinley wondered if some of the county’s ARPA dollars could be used toward a match, and Triller said she would investigate if that would work.

The grant is due at the beginning of June.