With state health guidelines for COVID-19 reducing the number of preschool children in a classroom to no more than 10, the cost for a child at Durango School District 9-R’s preschool is set to more than double, at least temporarily.
“We are restricted at this point to only 10 children in a room, which fiscally doesn’t work for a private business, let alone the school district. And so our rates have had to drastically increase,” said 9-R Superintendent Dan Snowberger.
The district’s monthly charge for four-days-a-week, full-day preschool will jump from $480 currently to $1,000 next school year. The monthly rate for four-days-a-week, half-day preschool is set to go from $240 to $500.
Snowberger said rates are based on health rules currently in place, and 9-R plans to reduce the rate as the state eases COVID-19 restrictions on preschools.
“The state is going to continue to monitor whether those ratios can be increased. Our hope would be by August, the ratios will increase and we can go back to our model of 16 children in a room and ultimately return fees to where they were,” Snowberger said.
Libby Culver, 9-R supervisor of early childhood education, said she anticipates a 10% to 20% drop in per pupil funding from the state for its preschools next year.
“The main thing right now is we don’t know the amount the state will decrease. But currently, the state is limiting class size to 10. Normally, we have a class size of 16. And so we’re trying to figure out how to serve as many kids as possible with that in mind,” Culver said.
The district’s preschool currently serves 208 students, but because of classroom limits and reduced demand as families with young children move out of the area, Culver expects to be serving only 120 preschoolers next year.
Parents were alerted to the looming increase in the district’s preschool rates Friday, well ahead of next school year to aid in planning for child care.
Snowberger said: “For many of our families this is just going to be cost-prohibitive. We’re not happy about this, and certainly, we have families that are not happy with us.”
The preschool program at 9-R is almost entirely supported by state funds and tuition.
Culver said: “This really isn’t a school district issue. It’s our whole child care community. Every child care center is under the same rules that we are. Everybody’s going to have to raise their tuition. Nobody can survive on 10 kids in a group, and I’ve talked to some private providers, and they say if this continues, they’re going to go out of business.”
Stacy Zimmerman Ferrell, director of Children’s House of Durango, said her for-profit preschool is trying to refrain from raising rates through summer, but at that point, if state rules remain in place, it would be forced to consider a price increase.
Children’s House currently has multiple rates, but its main rates are $620 monthly for full-day, five-days-a-week preschool and $500 monthly for half-day, five-days-a-week preschool.
“Right now, we’re hoping we don’t have to go there,” Zimmerman Ferrell said about rate increases. “But that might be one of our only options. That would be a worst-case scenario. A lot of our families cannot really afford child care as it is. And so how do you raise prices? It will definitely limit who can attend.”
Because more parents are staying home, demand for preschool services has fallen, she said. Children’s House normally serves 38 children, but that is now down to 20 children.
The drop in demand has cut Children’s House revenue in half, but the decrease in demand also has meant that the private preschool hasn’t had to turn any families away that have needed its services.
“I think families are still being cautious about coming back. And so we’ve had a pretty good balance of families who want to come back and how many (children) we can take,” she said.
As more people return to work, Zimmerman Ferrell worries if state limits aren’t eased, she will be forced to begin turning down families.
She also worries that restrictions on preschools might ease temporarily, but tighter restrictions might be reimposed if there is a second spike in COVID-19 infections.
“It’s frustrating to think that we might be kind of going back and forth, but it might end up being what needs to happen,” she said.
At the federal level, Zimmerman Ferrell said plenty of attention has been given to the needs of restaurants and other small businesses hurt by COVID-19 restrictions, but she does not believe many people realize the difficult situation facing preschools.
“I think the problem will start to really show up now that more families are trying to go back to work and the day cares are all either closing down because they can’t afford to stay open or their numbers are so limited they can’t take any more kids space-wise,” she said. “I think in these next couple of months, as more and more people are going back to work, we’re going to see kind of a crunch – we have no place for our kids to go.”