Children’s Learning Center teachers are set to receive a 3 percent raise from a tuition increase that will go into effect in July.
The Learning Center announced Wednesday a 6 percent tuition bump that will boost pay for its teachers. The increase amounts to $3.85 to $4.25 per child per day, $66 to $73 per child per month. The increased funding boosts salary ranges for teachers up to $28,900 to $35,000. The current salary range is $28,000 to $34,000.
The remainder of the money from the tuition bump will be funneled into a new fund for optional performance-based bonuses and professional development.
“We decided we wanted to make a material change in the lives of our teachers,” Executive Director Patti Boyd said. “If we had a more gradual increase, which we have had — 2 percent, 3 percent — it keeps us at the status quo. It does not actually give us the opportunity for a little salary increase for staff and opportunities for them to further their education.”
Money for teachers
The Learning Center is the area’s largest early education center that serves kids from birth through age 5. Services include childcare, preschool, special education and Head Start. The tuition increase applies only to full-day, full-year child care.
Boyd said the increase supports staff who haven’t received consistent annual cost-of-living increases. In several brainstorming sessions and board meetings, salary increases came up as a “hot topic,” she said.
“These are things we think would really help the retention of our teachers and the recruitment of the best teachers we can get,” Boyd said. “It’s part of our strategic plan to recruit and keep the very best quality teachers we can, get them in education in the best way we can, all for the benefit of our children.”
Over Boyd’s six-year tenure at the Learning Center, tuition has increased a total of 7 percent. The center is “consciously trying to keep our tuition as low as possible,” she said. Tuition for the learning center’s child care services is about 20 percent less than actual cost.
But the center anticipates future decreases in government funding, which is a major source of incom for the nonprofit. Outside of tuition fees, government grants, support from the town of Jackson and Teton County, and fundraising make up the bulk of its income.
More than $500,000 must be raised each year for the center to break even, Boyd said. This year the Learning Center is stepping away from Dancing with the Jackson Hole Stars, what has been a major fundraising event for the nonprofit. Its new fundraising plans have yet to be announced.
The new Mercill Avenue facility was not a factor in raising tuition, Boyd said, and no tuition money was used for construction.
Kid care is hard to find
Boyd said she understands that child care can be a big item in a family’s budget. It’s a struggle not just for Jackson parents, but for those across the country.
A third of parents reported difficulty finding child care in a 2016 survey. NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health conducted the survey.
The average annual cost of enrolling a child age 4 or younger in full-time day care is $9,589, according to a joint report from the think tank New America and Care.com that was reported in a 2016 Slate article. That’s higher than the average cost of in-state college tuition nationwide.
In comparison, the annual cost of in-state tuition at the University of Wyoming is estimated to be $15,900 for undergrads and $6,078 for graduate students.
It’s uncertain if the tuition hike will be cost-prohibitive to parents. No parents could be reached for comment by press time. Boyd said scholarships (and resources to help caregivers fill out scholarship paperwork), as well as continued fundraising will keep the learning center accessible.
“We are always worried about our parents,” Boyd said. “We pride ourselves in being a child care for working families. So that being said, tuition is a huge bite of everyone’s income around town, no matter where they take their children.
“We are all in the same game, and we are all about the same price, so it’s a huge bite for families.”
She said the Learning Center’s tuition rates still fall below several child care providers in the valley.
In addition to reviewing child care budgets, Learning Center parents will need to take a look at their calendars. The organization announced the elimination of two calendar days and four early-out days, a move that adds paid time off for teachers and additional meeting and planning time. For the additional days off, the Learning Center plans to provide a list of teachers interested in baby-sitting.
The change will also eliminate a 10-month program rate, a program typically used by parents who don’t need summer child care.