By Bulletin Editorial Board
Child care should enable parents to work and help start children on the path to learning. Oregon’s child care flops.
The well-connected and well-paid may be able to find good solutions. Many other families cannot find child care when they need it, let alone at a reasonable cost. In Central Oregon, the estimate is there are openings for only 1 in 3 children under age 5 in registered child care centers and in-home providers.
Deschutes County commissioners have a chance to create a win for child care in Central Oregon. And it would be a win that the community can build on.
Help kick-start the “Little Kits” program of Oregon State University-Cascades Campus and Central Oregon Community College. Commissioners should dedicate $1 million from the county’s American Rescue Plan money to help get the program off the ground.
State Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend, already chose to invest $1 million in Little Kits from the American Rescue Plan dollars he controls. Knopp was on the Legislature’s Joint Task Force On Access to Quality Affordable Child Care. He knows how acute the need is. Let’s make a solution happen here.
The goal is to make the program a replicable model. It will provide high-quality care enriched by learning. It aims to provide it at a price parents can afford. It will pay its workers a living wage, meaning they will be able to afford to live in Bend. It will give workers strong benefits. It will be run by trained professional staff and have opportunities for students to learn on the job. The location is not final. It might be at OSU-Cascades or COCC.
There may be 70-100 spots for children at the first site. The hope is to add other locations in the future, perhaps in Redmond, La Pine and elsewhere. The first priority for available spots will likely go to parents who are registered students at the campuses. That will enable parents to pursue education and enhance their skills so they can better provide for their children in the future. Spots will then be made available for faculty and staff at the two institutions. Kelly Sparks, associate vice president for finance and strategic planning at OSU-Cascades, told us the estimate is there will still be about 25 spots open after that for the community. But she emphasized this is just the beginning of a model that they hope to spread to more places in Central Oregon.
The missing piece is public investment. The money will go to the cost of buying and setting up a modular building. In December, when the final report came out from Knopp’s state task force on child care, do you know what one recommendation was? “Increase public investment.”
The Bend Chamber of Commerce has been working hard since launching its child care task force in 2018 to find creative solutions. As chamber CEO Katy Brooks explains, it is not just about child care. It’s about economic development. It’s about improving the future of Central Oregon. It’s about meeting a critical need where society is falling flat. That’s why the chamber is backing Little Kits.
We know the system we have now is inadequate and failing families. We believe OSU-Cascades and COCC will create a high-quality program where we would be lucky to send our kids. Deschutes County commissioners should invest in this solution.
(If you are wondering, kits are the young of both beaver and bobcats. And the full name of the program is a mouthful, Little Kits Early Learning & Child Care Center.)
This article originally appeared in The Bulletin on June 16, 2021.