Missoula Chamber exploring affordable childcare solutions

(KPAX) Missoula’s lack of available and affordable childcare is well known to parents  — and has only gotten worse in the past 10 years.

It’s also an issue that the Missoula Chamber of Commerce is well aware of — and the group might have some ideas on how to remedy the situation.

“In the past 10 years we’ve lost 42 percent of the childcare homes and those are facilities that can take care of from 6 to 12 children depending on their license most of those facilities serve babies,” said Childcare Resources Executive Director Kelly Rosenleaf.

Rosenleaf says the only full-spectrum solution is to have legislation passed to fund privatized childcare for kids between one and five years old. But House Bill 755 — which would have helped provide that money — died in this year’s Montana legislative session.

“Unhappiness and bickering between politicians resulted in discontinuing it, and we had some pilot sites. We had about 30 pilot sites in Montana and all of them went away as well,” Rosenleaf said.

“So, for example, Lolo had a pilot pre K and Alberton had a pilot pre k — and both of them lost those programs.”

The Missoula Chamber of Commerce has recognized the problem and also has conducted a study that proves the lack of affordable childcare and its relevance to the workforce.

“So the Chamber is really taking a role of trying to be a connector in bringing ideas when we took a look at our study that was performed we just saw that it was a problem,” Missoula Chamber of Commerce chairman Jason Rice said.

“We saw that there were mothers that did want to work but the cost of childcare just didn’t make sense along with the wage gap,” he added.

Statistics show that on average childcare costs a family per child $591 a month, and if a two-parent household is making the median income in Missoula, that’s about 17 percent of their monthly budget.

While businesses providing childcare seem to be a possible solution, the Chamber is working on some other interesting options like My Village — which helps people start and run their own in-home childcare facilities.

“We also worked with My Village. They recently became a member of the Chamber and they are bringing a business model for in-home childcare as well,” Rice said. “Which is cool because it’s bringing small businesses into Missoula and helping with the childcare situation.

It’s a situation that respondents to one survey said forced them to “work part-time due to a lack of childcare options.”

While the availability of childcare might be low, some Missoula area facilities have recently received some high praise.

The Doddlebugs Daycare and Lolo Preschool achieved the highest ranking — a STAR 5 rating — in the Montana Quality Rating Improvement System.