Approximately 1,000 Napa County children are on a waiting list to get into subsidized child care — but their odds of finding care decreased further with the recent closure of a local preschool.
The Yountville Preschool Child Development Program shut down Nov. 2, becoming the fourth facility the Napa County Office of Education has closed due to state budget cuts.
NCOE, which relies almost entirely on state and federal funds, decided to close the preschool after losing approximately $150,000 in preschool funding in July.
Last year, the preschool program took about a $300,000 cut, which led to the closure of three child care programs for elementary school–aged children: the Phillips Child Development Center, as well as development centers at Napa Valley Language Academy and Yountville Elementary.
Since July, the Yountville preschool was serving about 11 kids — all of whom found alternative care. Five of the children will remain in preschools run by NCOE. Two were given scholarships or stipends to a private preschool near Yountville, and the rest will attend Los Niños, which is run by Community Action Napa Valley.
Other local organizations that offer subsidized child care are Napa Valley College, Community Resources for Children and Napa Valley Adult Education.
With the Yountville closure, NCOE has only two full-day preschools available to families — one in St. Helena and one in Napa, located off Imola Avenue. NCOE also operates part-day preschools. Program-wide, these facilities serve about 240 kids.
If voters on Nov. 6 hadn’t passed Proposition 30 — Gov. Jerry Brown’s temporary tax-increase initiative — child care development programs would have faced “drastic cuts,” said Andrea Knowlton, director of NCOE’s Early Childhood Services.
Proposition 30 will provide funding for education by raising the state sales tax by a quarter-cent for the next four years and increasing the state income tax on the wealthiest Californians for seven years.
While preschool programs are a necessity for most working parents, they also serve to educate and prepare children for kindergarten, Knowlton said.
“If they don’t start out with a quality early education, they will start kindergarten behind their peers,” Knowlton said.
To qualify for one of NCOE’s preschool programs, a parent must work a minimum of 32 hours a week, be going to school, or actively looking for work. Tuition is adjusted by income — for example, a family of four with a monthly income of $2,340 would pay a full-time daily fee of $3.
Families can qualify for free care if their monthly income is below a certain amount. Families who exceed the monthly income ceilings are not allowed to enroll.
The Napa Child Development Center, located off Imola Avenue, is the largest of NCOE’s full-day preschool facilities. The center currently has 45 kids enrolled, ages 3 to 5, who are divided into two classrooms, with three adults — teachers and assistants — in each room.
About 15 to 20 of these children qualify for free care, 12 qualify for special education services, and 90 percent of the children speak Spanish, according to staff.
Both classrooms at the Napa center are colorful, cozy, clean spaces with short bookshelves and tables dividing the room into different “learning spaces.” Children work on fine motor skills with arts and crafts, puzzles and blocks.
There also are areas dedicated to writing, science and reading. One section of the classroom, dedicated to real-world imagination play, is given different themes throughout the year. Currently, the space is being used as a pretend grocery store, where students can use Raley’s grocery baskets to shop for food and then use a toy cash register and fake money at check-out.
During recess, children have a full backyard and playground facility with slides, a tire swing, and paths for tricycles and wagons.
Maryanne Rijkers, site supervisor for the Napa Child Development Center, said that with so many families on the waitlist for child care, she never has any problems filling an open spot. Despite the demand, the budget cuts over the past few years make her — and the center’s parents — increasingly “nervous,” Rijkers said.
“You never know if it’s going to be your place, your job, or your families being affected,” she said. “Families get very panicky.”