Aug 25, 2011 7:01 PM by Marnee Banks

Report: Montana child care costs going up

A report released by the National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies (NACCRRA) shows child care costs are becoming increasingly expensive.

Creative Horizons Learning Center in Helena prides itself on providing high quality childcare, but it's becoming more and more difficult for owner Ann Lynch to keep her rates competitive.

"I do a spreadsheet and I look at it regularly and I have to look at if I'm meeting the bottom line. It's a pretty tight budget," Lynch says.

According to NACCRRA, Montana families are paying just over $9,000 a year to put their infant in a full time care center. This means on average married couples are spending 14% of their annual income on child care.

Lynch agrees it's hard for most parents to afford that, especially those receiving state assistance.

"My rates are higher than the average state rate and so when the state doesn't pay that amount then the parents are obligated for that. So then they have a choice that they have to either put out extra money they don't have to help them pay for that to meet my budget, or they have to choose another program that doesn't charge above the state cost," Lynch says.

But she says she can't afford to lower her rates if she continues to provide quality service.

The State of Montana recently launched the STARS program to monitor and rate the quality of child care centers. Instead of setting a flat rate for state reimbursements, STARS pays more for facilities which offer better care and a higher educated workforce.

Jamie Palagi works for the Department of Public Health and Human Services Early Childhood Services. She is heading up the STARS program in Montana. She says STARS aims to increase the quality of care in Montana child care facilities through incentives.

"This is what's needed for young children in early childhood programs in order to grow and be successful and for families to feel good about leaving their children in quality childcare," Palagi says.

Lynch is one of approximately 100 facilities participating in the STARS program.

"I really feel that if you are going above and beyond with the training the state should offer you more and offer to support that quality," Lynch says.

Lynch says hopefully the program will grow and encourage other centers to step up their quality of care.

Additional NACCRRA statistics:

The average Montana childcare worker is paid about $18,000 a year, which is less than the national average of $21,000.

43,209 Montana children under the age of 6 need child care.

There are 16,849 single working mothers in Montana and 47,480 married working mothers.

For the full NACCRRA report click here. For Montana specific statistics click here.


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