Platte County approves 150k in ARPA funding for child care


Child care has been a hot topic in the Columbus area for some time as workers are in short supply and high demand, and parents have begun going back to work after the pandemic.

Several months back, the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce began brainstorming solutions for the issue, including kickstarting Columbus Area Childcare, a non-profit dedicated to providing options to those affected by recent closures of other child care facilities.

At the Oct. 25 Platte County Board of Supervisors meeting, $150,000 was approved in ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) funding to help three local child care groups continue their services.

The first, Bright Stars, a part of 1C – The Sanctuary, was approved for $50,000 that will be used for start-up costs and getting their intended facility up to state standards, according to Bright Stars Director Brittany Sempek.

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“We have to install some sinks into some of our classrooms, so that would help with that funding, just some general startup costs, furniture, chairs tables, exterior doors we would like to upgrade,” Sempek said.

A new venture provided by the church to provide child care services for the community, Bright Stars is still in its infancy, but moving along quickly. When they open, they expect to be able to accommodate 12 infants, 12 toddlers and 10 preschoolers, and to be able to grow to a capacity of 72 in the future.

The second request, by Columbus Public Schools, for $65,000 was adjusted to $50,000 by recommendation of the ARPA funding committee and approved five to two.

District 2 Supervisor and Board Chairman Jerry Micek expressed his concern regarding the use of public monies to fund an already-subsidized organization when there are private businesses competing with it. 

“I know some of those entities, because I’ve had a couple phone calls, did their own improvements, their own expansions and (I) just wonder how we can do this and be competing with those entities because they’re all private,” Micek said.

Micek continued that the funds, which were allocated to the county, could also go towards other causes that are not otherwise subsidized and that may have more need or use in the future. 

“These are public funds we’re spending, no matter where they came from, they’re public funds. I think they have the opportunity to, with the money they’ve got, taxwise, they can do it,” Micek said. “I think that the county itself has a lot more responsibilities that we can use this money for.”

The intended usage of those funds, according to a description by Columbus Public Schools read by District 5 Supervisor Kim Kwapnioski, will allow accommodation for up to 120 children from 6 weeks of age to preschool.

The funding would also go toward a “community room” for in-home child care providers to access needed resources and for partnership efforts with Central Community College to offer dual-credit classes to Columbus High School for those pursuing early child care. 

District 6 Supervisor Jerry Engdahl responded that the closure of two privately-run day care facilities showed that the issue is not private versus public funding, rather a need for the services that outweighs what private businesses can supply at the moment.

“Collectively they can’t handle the need, that’s the biggest problem. The two day care centers closed and those in-home day cares are limited to the number of children they can take care of and as I said, they’re for-profit,” Engdahl said. 

Lastly, $50,000 was granted to Columbus Area Childcare, the non-profit started in September and along with support from the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce also has several area businesses backing it. The non-profit currently resides in the old facility for one of the closed businesses, Little Messengers.

Chamber President Dawson Brunswick spoke to the nonprofit’s funding and earlier approval for an economic development loan by the City of Columbus to explain just what the funding goes toward.

“There’s about 600 spots, a need of 600 kids, if you go to Platte County, there’s another 100 kids that need help, we have that gap in licensed child care,” Brunswick said.

Brunswick explained that the need for child care and his and the chamber’s involvement in such endeavors were unexpected, but that the chamber tried to work with Little Messengers before they closed. Mostly the money will go toward hiring staff for toddlers and infants, who have the most need due to costs of care.

“There’s no money to be made with infants. It costs $6.15 to care for an infant an hour and the highest rate you’ll see in town is about $5.50, $5.35, so you’re losing 80 cents an hour on a kid being cared for,” Brunswick said.

As that is the case, Brunswick said, Columbus Area Childcare will not take on any pre-school or school-age children.

“We were able to place all the kids at Messengers that were pre-school and school-age because we had those openings between private day cares and businesses but it’s infants and toddlers that have that need,” Brunswick said.

Brunswick added that Platte County, the City of Columbus and businesses like ADM, Behlen Mfg. Co. and Pillen Family Farms have all made it easier for them to take on staff, and the ARPA funding will further help pay for workers. So far, Brunswick said, Columbus Area Childcare has looked at 31 applicants for those needed positions.

“We’ve had some really high-quality applicants that want to stay in child care or left child care and want to come back and the fact that we’re able to pay in that $13-15 range allows them to stay in the industry they love,” Brunswick said.

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