Nonetheless, larger centers are thriving, while smaller, home-based ones are not.
Larger centers benefit from state regulations that allow them to maintain a smaller adult-to-child ratio than child care homes. The centers also benefit from larger reimbursement rates from CYFD for state-subsidized kids—$542 on average, compared with $431 for homes.
But both homes and centers—and therefore many families—are affected by CYFD’s current funding crunch; its child care assistance budget dropped 19 percent from fiscal year 2010 to fiscal year 2011. Technically, all families whose annual income is less than twice the federal poverty guidelines ($29,420 for a two-person family) are eligible for subsidized child care. Right now, however, only families under the FPG are receiving benefits—for a two-person family, that’s an annual income of $14,710.
Those subsidy amounts are widely considered inadequate; the two child care providers who closed down most recently blame the amount of CYFD reimbursements. Pam Prada at The Giving Tree Early Childhood Center, a small center, took in CYFD-subsidized kids almost exclusively and ultimately had to shut down. Laurie Allocca at Holy Faith Early Childhood Community fell into the same trap. Prada claims some surviving providers who take CYFD-subsidized kids accept payments from those parents on top of the subsidies.
“The centers sometimes charge hundreds [on top of the subsidy],” Prada writes SFR in an email. “And these are high end preschools like Garcia Street [Club] and other accredited centers. Families are forced to pay if they need the care since space is so limited. The centers do this to survive.”
GSC Director Michele Biller acknowledges that GSC does accept private payments from CYFD-subsidized clients, to bridge some of the gap between the subsidies of approximately $550 per month and tuition of nearly $1,000.
She says GSC’s tuition is high partly because it has to offset the low CYFD subsidies, and doesn’t want to exclude those children from its program. CYFD spokesman Enrique Knell says that the only extra charges subsidized parents should pay directly to the center are materials or field trip fees, and then they can’t exceed corresponding fees for private pay clients.
The number of children who are receiving the CYFD subsidy has decreased approximately 6 percent over the past 10 years. In 2011, approximately 22,000 children receive subsidies, while another 4,643 are eligible and waiting.
Low-income families also can receive assistance through the federal Head Start and Early Head Start (for younger kids) programs, which have a total of 16 facilities in Santa Fe after adding three last year. Eligibility for those is also set at the federal poverty guideline but, because of the demand, other criteria that make a child especially needy are also considered, according to Amanacer Early Head Start Director Maria Wickstrom.
Wickstrom tells SFR that her new facility is licensed to hold more than the 40 infants and toddlers who were snoozing on little mesh cots in a maze of rooms during SFR’s visit.
Licensing surveys for other Santa Fe Head Start and Early Head Start programs also show vacancies; Presbyterian Medical Services Head Start Flores del Sol had 38 open spaces when the state did its last census. Yet Wickstrom says the current waiting list for her site alone is approximately 80 qualified applicants. PMS Children’s Services Manager Michelle Quintana says all of the Santa Fe sites are filled to capacity, and would require more funding and, in some cases, more square footage, to accommodate more kids.
“The amount New Mexico spends out of its general fund for early childhood to 5 years old is about $37.5 million,” Brindle Foundation Executive Director Kim Straus says. “Corrections and child protection is $372 million. Think of how much money we spend on prisons as compared to what we spend on our youngest children! We spend about $35,000 a year to keep an inmate in the state penitentiary. We spend $3,500 a year for children to get home visiting services or pre-kindergarten. Are we better just having babies go to jail ’cause they’ll get better care than if they’re in our community?”