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Sublette County program offers a model for stabilizing Wyoming’s childcare shortage

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The Sublette Co. BOCES is housed in the local high school and provides care for 35 children.

Sublette County has found an innovative way to support its local daycare centers, even as much of Wyoming endures a worsening shortage of childcare facilities.

The school district partnered with Western Wyoming Community College to do an early childhood mill levy back in 1999. It helps pay good wages to caregivers and reduces employee turnover rates. The program is called Board of Cooperative Education Services (BOCES).

Sublette BOCES Director Robin Schamber said she’s seen a cycle in school districts that don’t provide early childhood care.

“Those families move away and then their school becomes smaller and smaller and smaller,” Schamber said. “Ultimately, what it does is dry up their pool of money for their school as well. So I think of it as a resource for growing your school, growing your community and keeping our good families here.”

Schamber said the funding means they can pay caregivers a living wage, unlike most daycare centers. It can also be used to offer grants to other daycares in the county. And because it’s a partnership with a community college, it creates a skilled workforce.

“To have the program here on the school campus where students can come over and maybe get a work study credit, or if it's credentialed through Western’s teacher program, they could actually get some early childhood teaching credits. The idea was to create a pipeline of workers that might eventually start their own childcare centers,” Schamber said.

She says every school district should consider BOCES.

“For the average taxpayer here, I mean, it probably costs me $6 a year. It's just a way to give back to the community really and to help people,” she said.

While there’s still waiting lists for infants and toddlers, Schamber said older age groups have more openings than before BOCES was adopted. She said it’s that kind of data that shows the program is alleviating some of the community’s most pressing childcare needs.

Melodie Edwards is the host and producer of WPM's award-winning podcast The Modern West. Her Ghost Town(ing) series looks at rural despair and resilience through the lens of her hometown of Walden, Colorado. She has been a radio reporter at WPM since 2013, covering topics from wildlife to Native American issues to agriculture.
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