The Deschutes County Commission has unanimously approved its largest American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) investment to date, allocating an additional $6.6 million in relief funds to increase regional child care and early learning capacity.
The County’s investments will help create more than 500 new child care spots and train more than 275 new workers in the child care and early education fields.
Funding allocated by the Board of Commissioners includes $3.12 million to support workforce development efforts and $3.55 million to support more child care spots for local families.
The funding will help to address a critical shortage of child care in Deschutes County, where fewer than 4,600 child care spots are available for nearly 12,000 children under age five.
“Increasing the availability of high-quality child care and early learning programs is one of our top priorities,” said Deschutes County Commissioner Patti Adair. “These investments will help to support local families, increase kindergarten readiness for early learners and provide new and expanded workforce development opportunities across the county.”
Increasing access to child care and early learning programs
Investments intended to increase local child care and early learning availability included funding to:
- Support a second Little Kits Child Care and Early Learning center on Bend’s east side that will provide capacity for up to 200 children. It is planned for development on property owned by St. Charles Health System and will provide both infant through pre-K programming managed by Little Kits and after school, evening and summer programs for school-age children that will be managed by the Boys & Girls Club. The center is anticipated to provide care for children of St. Charles’ employees, as well as for area families.
- Create up to 50 child care openings in La Pine and Redmond with services provided by Mountain Star Relief Nursery.
- Increase capacity within existing centers for up to 100 children through a fund that will be administered by NeighborImpact.
- Expand ReVillage Community Co-op Childcare centers into Sisters, Bend and Redmond, which will build capacity for up to 80 children.
Local child care and early learning advocates, who together form the Deschutes County Child Care Coalition, collaborated to develop and propose the regional package of investments that would build a workforce pipeline, invest in facilities and program needs and sustain child care as a viable business model.
The Coalition includes members from OSU-Cascades, Central Oregon Community College (COCC), NeighborImpact, the High Desert Education Service District Early Learning Hub, the Bend Chamber, Boys & Girls Club of Bend, East Cascades Works, Mountain Star Relief Nursery, ReVillage Community Co-op Childcare Center, St. Charles Health System and concerned citizens.
“I see this bundle of investments in child care centers and a child care workforce as a “moon shot” program that gives us a chance to catch up on the child care spots and care providers we need to support Deschutes County families and employers struggling to find the workers needed to run our economy and community,” said Deschutes County Commissioner Phil Chang. “Thank you to the Child Care Coalition for assembling this strategic bundle of investments for consideration by the Board of Commissioners.”
Earlier this year, the Board of Commissioners approved $1 million to support the Little Kits Child Care and Early Learning centers, a cooperative effort to be launched and operated by OSU-Cascades and COCC.
The first center, which is expected to provide child care for 70 to 100 children, is in the process of launching on the OSU-Cascades campus.
“This investment by the Deschutes County Commissioners is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to increase access to equitable child care in our communities, and educate the child care workers of the future,” said Kelly Sparks, associate vice president for finance and strategic planning at OSU-Cascades. “Securing this support on behalf of area families would not have been possible without the expertise, experience and collaboration of the Deschutes County Child Care Coalition members.”
The centers will incorporate indoor classrooms and outdoor play areas and provide care and enrichment for children from infants to age five.
Shared operations will leverage the institutions’ academic expertise in childhood development and early learning. The centers will also provide skill development and academic credit through internships and apprenticeships for students pursuing careers in the child care and early childhood fields.
Investing in workforce development
Investments for workforce development also included $1.1 million for a program to be led by NeighborImpact and East Cascades Works.
The program will fast track students onto a career path over a six-month period and provide professional development for current workers.
The program will employ a director to coordinate a progression of opportunities from internships and apprenticeships, to employment as teacher aides, home-based child care providers, head teachers and managers. Organizers anticipate it will produce 90 new teachers over a three-year period.
Workforce development investments will also support the Little Kits internship program at OSU-Cascades and COCC, which is expected to produce 54 new teachers over three years.
The funding will support the annual recruitment, advising, education and supervision of as many as 24 teacher candidates.
“The future and sustainability of early learning in Deschutes County will be permanently transformed thanks to these unprecedented partnerships and funding,” said Laurie Chesley, president of COCC. “With more spots for children comes a dramatic need for many more highly skilled early learning teachers. With this vote, the Commissioners have both empowered COCC and OSU-Cascades to train hundreds of additional educators and enabled local early learning providers to pay their employees a competitive living wage.”
Commissioners also approved $125,000 for a business accelerator program led by COCC and NeighborImpact.
The program will provide education, advising and start-up grants for new child care operators. Additional allocations included $906,000 for contingent use for additional workforce development and $284,000 to support long-term sustainability for child care.
“With this investment, we are excited to increase access to care and help to support new and innovative workforce development opportunities,” said Deschutes County Commissioner Tony DeBone.
Deschutes County will receive more than $38 million in ARPA funds.
The County received the first half of the funds in May and expects to receive the remainder of the funds next year. To learn more about the County’s ARPA investments, visit www.deschutes.org/arpa.