Jax Garcia scrubs his hands with soap and water, then grabs his toothbrush.
“The first thing we do is hygiene. It’s introducing habits, routines, schedules,” says Ronda White, owner of Masterminds Preschool and Child Care in Baker City.
When Garcia finishes up in the bathroom, he joins his five classmates in the living room that White converted into a learning space.
Masterminds is a state-funded preschool through the Preschool Promise program. It is for ages 3 to 5. Students attend for six hours, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
To qualify for attendance, income must be no more than 200 percent of the federal poverty level. For a family of four, that is an annual income of $50,200.
On Monday, Masterminds received several visitors who were in Baker City to release a report titled “Want to Grow Oregon’s Economy? Fix the Child Care Crisis.”
Preschool and child care centers both cater to children age 5 and younger — a demographic that can benefit from early learning opportunities.
The contingent who came to Baker City included Martha Brooks, state director of two bipartisan nonprofits — ReadyNation and Fight Crime: Invest in Kids.
She was joined by Kelly Poe, director of community services for Malheur Education Service District (ESD), and Theresa Martinez, Early Learning coordinator and Preschool Promise director for Malheur ESD.
Both women are involved in the Eastern Oregon Early Learning Hub, which encompasses Malheur, Baker and Wallowa counties.
Child Care Deserts
A child care desert is described as an area where care options are scarce or nonexistent. According to the report, Baker County qualifies as a child care desert with seven children under the age of 3 for every available licensed child care slot.
“Child care is an extreme problem clear across the state,” Brooks said.
Kim Mosier, a working parent in Baker City, was asked by ReadyNation to look over the report’s findings.
“I put a great value on early childhood education,” Mosier said. “A lot of the data stood out to me, affirming what I already knew.”
She and her husband met and married in Baker City, then moved to Western Oregon. When they had their first child, they considered both the high cost of living and of child care — and moved back to Baker City for a lower cost of living, no commute and proximity to family.
Their situation would allow one parent to work part-time, but child care was not simple.
“We cobbled together child care options for me to work part time,” she said. “It really affected how I went back into the work force.”
When looking over the report’s data, Mosier said one particular statistic stood out: Baker County has 26 licensed slots for infants and toddlers, yet there are nearly 600 children in that age group.
Brooks said that in Oregon, 59 percent of mothers with infants are working. This requires child care. The ReadyNation report found that 58 percent of children under age 3 are in some form of “non-parental” child care. Of these, 42 percent are in informal care with family, friends or neighbors. Just 16 percent are in organized child care centers.
The limited options, Brooks said, “doesn’t allow you to find a good fit for your family.”
See more in the Feb. 27, 2019, issue of the Baker City Herald.