Snohomish County steps in to save early learning center amid shortage

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EVERETT, Wash. — After months of uncertainty, Everett Community College’s early learning center will continue to operate.

Last November, the college announced plans to find an outside partner to operate the Early Learning Center, which provides care and education opportunities for infants and children up to age 5. Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers has stepped forward to offer funding for the long-term sustainability of the ELC.

“We are grateful for Snohomish County’s investment in our youngest learners and the county’s continued support of our exceptional staff at the Early Learning Center,” said EvCC Acting President Darrell L. Cain.

The news means single parents like Carlos Hernandez will be able to stay in school and continue their education to improve the lives of their children.

Hernandez is getting additional job training at EvCC after a workplace accident left him unemployed.

“I was surviving on hope and prayers that I could find a proper daycare for my daughter so I could go to school,” Hernandez says.

The Early Learning Center took her daughter for free.

The center’s mission is to help struggling parents secure stable jobs, childcare and housing, but it comes at a price.

The ELC ended up with a deficit of $700,000 at the end of last year.

The college announced it would close the center and have a third party take over to save money.

This left Carlos and his 4-year-old daughter, Lena, unsure if they could afford to stay.

“It was scary,” Carlos said. “Losing my child care would change my life.”

After a change in administration at the college, an agreement was announced Tuesday that Snohomish County will provide $200,000 to keep the center open through 2023.

“All the teachers were clapping,” ELC Acting Principal Rachelle Refling said. “The kids were wondering what was going on. It was such a relief.”

Relief in Everett, but countless parents across the region are still struggling.

A Lending Tree study found that families in Washington pay more than $17,000 a year for child care, or nearly 23% of their income.

And that’s if you’re lucky enough to find a spot.

“Our waiting list is only getting longer,” says Refling. “We have about 70 families on the waiting list and every day we receive two to four families who request care.”

“Getting people back to work is a key objective of our economic recovery efforts and ensuring families have access to quality child care with early learning is essential to that mission. I am proud to partner with Everett Community College and Snohomish County Council to keep the early learning center open and accessible,” said Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers.

The number of licensed child care providers in Washington state has steadily declined over the past decade, with hundreds fewer in 2019 than there were in 2013.

Hundreds of thousands of children are also not having their care needs met, according to data from the Washington State Department of Children, Youth and Families.

However, the county only funds the center until 2023.

After that, the college and county agreed to “work together to plan for the years ahead.”

For now, Carlos is just grateful that the ELC remains open and his daughter continues to thrive.

“It’s an oasis in a childcare desert,” he said. “In my opinion, the big winners here are the children.”