DUNCAN, Okla. (OBV) – According to research from The State Chamber Research Foundation, affordable childcare is a big hurdle for parents to remain in the workforce in Oklahoma.
“One of the huge levers or dams or gates that we have to growing a quality workforce is [that] we don’t have enough affordable, reliable, quality childcare,” said Rep. Suzanne Schreiber, D-Tulsa.
Well in the South Central Oklahoma city of Duncan, private businesses and public schools are working together to do something about that.
“So rewarding all the way around,” said Channa Byerly of Duncan Public Schools.
The school superintendent described something special going on Elk Crossing. Years ago, the nursing and rehabilitation center came to Duncan Public Schools with a plan to use this space in their new facility as a full pre-K program classroom through the school district.
“It’s been a mutually beneficial program for both the school district and for this facility, for the family business here. So, you know, we’ve been able to benefit by the extra classroom, and then they’ve been able to benefit through this innovative program that they have,” said Merry Stone, assistant superintendent, Duncan Public Schools.
The kids receive top notch instruction and extra teachers thanks to the Elk Crossing residents.
“My son was one of the first classes that attended out here, and the relationships he built, just the conversation around his day and explaining the activities he did with his resident friends was just amazing,” said Byerly.
The Elk Crossing setup has two full-size classrooms that they rent to Duncan Schools for $1 a year, but the facility sees it as helping their community and their employees.
Bethany Stuart, the administrator at Elk Crossing, said, “We have two employees. My own daughter went through the program. Lots of employees do it. It’s easy. You can kind of check on your kid, especially the first year.”
“So they love it. They absolutely love it. The staff that work here have the ability to just walk by the windows and see how their kiddos are doing. You know, give a wave, give a high five. And that part has been awesome. I have heard only great things from the community [and] parents there,” said Kelle Jeffery, principal at the Elk Cross pre-K.
“It was a piece of cake. I mean, everything’s been easy. We’ve never had a discussion or an argument or anything, about anything, because we let them do their thing within those parameters. And then every time we ever ask for any kind of interaction, they’ve been more than welcome to do any of that,” said Jeff Gregston, owner of Elk Crossing.
So why aren’t more communities doing this? Finances. Right now, Elk Crossing is footing a lot of the bill to keep the program going. But what if it were to make more economic sense? Currently, The State Chamber and lawmakers are looking at ways to provide ad valorem tax exemptions to businesses who help provide childcare facilities to keep kids in class and parents in the workforce.
“It would just incentivize businesses to offer up spaces for things like the intergenerational programs or maybe in a technically savvy business, they would want to open a public school for a tech type program,” said Garvin.
“We have a huge shortage [of childcare options]. We have many, many, especially women, who are not able to access childcare because there’s not seats available for them or because it’s not affordable,” said Schreiber.
Both public and private sides like the potential tax changes.
“Anything we can figure out, a niche that’s going to attract a new employee, yeah we’re all for that, especially now,” said Gregston.
“So, [it’s] rewarding all the way around. And so, I would encourage any business that is willing to come to the table and work through things; [they are a] prime candidate for this program,” said Byerly.