Whoever it was that came up with the saying “If it was easy, everyone would do it” must have been in the midst of trying to open a licensed day care center, for the process is about as time intensive, complicated and expensive as it can be.
There is the sheer effort (and no small amount of luck) involved in applying for grants to get even initial funding. There are the more than 470 pages of state regulations and requirements that must be followed with little to no latitude for mistakes. There are the multiple steps involved in first finding and then hiring legal, qualified and certifiable staff. Last but not least, there is the need to connect with the community in hopes that parents will entrust the most important people in their lives—their children—to the care of others who may very well be strangers. Even if the day care is finally open—a stage in the process that many who try ultimately fail to reach--the challenges continue, for providing a good social and educational foundation for young children is an expensive proposition. Few, if any, day care centers can survive on the revenue brought in by tuition alone, so fundraising and applying for grants is an ongoing process.
Early Childhood Education is proven to be absolutely, undeniably crucial to a child’s development, and the impact of having—or not having—that experience early in life will be felt for the rest of the child’s school years and beyond. That’s a truth that day care advocates and administrators believe wholeheartedly, so they make the decision and jump into the fray. All that can be said is that we’re very grateful that they do, and if that long road ends up being a little longer than originally planned…well, another adage comes to mind.
“Anything worth having is worth waiting for.”
The Little Learners Learning and Care Center (LLLCC) recently notified the parents of 32 children who have already enrolled that they are going to have postpone the September 2nd opening date. This is due, in part, to the results of the licensing inspection that was conducted on Friday, August 9th, where several items were identified to be in need of correction.
The first issue was related to the fence which was seriously damaged in the powerful windstorm that hit town (and the building that houses the day care center) just three days before inspection. “The LLLCC Board of Directors are deciding whether we should spend the money to fix the vinyl fence or to replace it,” states LLLCC Director Tina Kraft. “We were very fortunate to have the vinyl fence donated from the old daycare, but we have been told by 2 separate contractors that the fence may not withstand the north winds due to its age and the fact that the playground is not blocked from the north at all.” She goes on to say, “The decision will be made at tonight’s meeting, and the work will begin right away.”
The other issue delaying the opening of the center is related to employees. “At the time of the inspection, the only employee was me,” states Kraft. “Obviously, we need more than one person to run a center.”
Since the inspection, Kraft has hired seven employees—five full time employees and two part-time, all of whom have enrolled in college courses in Early Childhood Education. “It’s ideal to hire people with the education and experience, but that’s not feasible in our rural area,” Kraft explains. “There hasn’t been a place for early childhood educators to work in our community for several years, so very few people have taken the coursework or gained the experience required to be Lead Teacher Qualified.”
Kraft has written for a hardship waiver for each of the staff members to be given time to complete classes and gain the required experience while working at LLLCC.
“This process is one of the pertinent elements and one that has a lengthy turnaround time,” she says. “The appeals panel only meets once a month, and any requests received after the 19th of the month aren’t able to looked at until the following month.”
Consequently, Kraft’s waiver requests won’t be reviewed until September 26th with the potential for an additional ten days before LLLCC receives the panel’s answer. “It’s frustrating but a very important part of being complaint,” Kraft states. She then adds with a laugh, “I’m a teacher and teachers follow the rules.”
Another step in the hiring process involves doing required background checks, which have a 30 day turnaround time. To date, Kraft has turned in requests for all the employees she’s hired as well as herself. However, she’s making good use of the time spent waiting. “We’re also working on completing the other training that’s required—Medication Administration, Universal Precautions, CPR and First Aid,” she says. “That training will be complete within the next week or two.”
Once Kraft has received all of the needed documents, she will send in documentation related to completed corrections along with proof of corrections to the Licensing Specialist who is authorized to grant final approval of the license.
“It’s frustrating,” Kraft says after a moment, “but we don’t want to just meet the required expectations. We don’t want to just be compliant. We want to go above and beyond that. We want to offer the best possible learning experience for the little ones in our care. And when we say ‘best possible learning experience’, we mean it. Every single word.”
There is no doubt that LLLCC will be licensed and open. Kraft, along with some of the members of her board, has been working with the Licensing Specialist throughout the entire process, and all of the areas in need of correction were known in advance, especially when the windstorm seriously damaged the fence just 3 days before inspection.
But opening is only half the story. The second half involves fundraising.
Yup. Fundraising. And all sorts of adages could be dropped into the story at this point.
Well developed, professional, center based day care has been repeatedly proven in multiple studies to be highly beneficial to children entering kindergarten, most notably in reading ability, mathematical ability and cognitive flexibility. Likewise, similar studies have shown that children who entered kindergarten at that higher level maintain that level through the first years of elementary school. As one researcher involved in a 2018 study conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics put it, “Those first five years—from birth to five years old—make more difference in predicting how a child will perform in school than any other of the other twelve years of a child’s education. If the children come in strong, they stay strong. If they come in behind, it’s a game of ‘catch up’ from that point on. Those first years are literally that important.”
Having sufficient funds to operate is both crucial to all center based day cares and not done without outside funding, as evidenced by nearly 70% of centers relying on grants and community donations to continue in operation. That number is close to 85% in rural areas, many of which are becoming “day care deserts” in places where no center based day care is available.
“Tuition is going to cover about 40% of our expenses,” Kraft states, “and, of course, we’re already identifying which grants we need to pursue. But we’re hoping that, once the community sees the quality of educational experiences the little ones will have at the center, they won’t just see their support as a donation. Hopefully, they’ll see their support as an investment in those children’s future and in the future of the community itself.”
LLLCC has published a list of items that are needed for the school, some of which have been purchased and some of which have not. “We’re so grateful for the generosity of the community!” Kraft says and then pauses as she looks for the right words before continuing. “We just need the community to know that our ability to rely on their support is going to be a determining factor in our ability to keep the doors open,” she says. “We have such great plans, and we’re trusting the community will see that whatever they donate is going to one of the best causes there is.”
Tina Kraft is not the only person who believes that LLLCC will be a truly exemplary day care center. To date, the parents of 32 children enrolled so far believe that, as well, as do the other parents who have signed up for drop in or back up child care. In other words, without even opening yet and now the need to postpone, Little Leaders Learning and Care Center is at more than 50% capacity yet, and those numbers are steadily growing.
What was that adage again? “Anything worth having is worth waiting for.” It remains to be seen if the community will show if it’s worth fighting for, as well.
LLLCC is a non-profit organization. Once the license is issued, monetary donors can receive a 50% tax write off for their donation. Contact Tina Kraft (719-688-7801) or Jan Richards (719-438-2200) with KCEDF for more information.