Proposal would build childcare centers at Herington, Solomon
Dickinson County plans to use funds it received from ARPA (the American Rescue Plan Act), working in conjunction with the Community Foundation of Dickinson County, USD 393 and USD 487 to build childcare facilities on school district property in both Solomon and Herington. The need for childcare in Dickinson County, throughout Kansas and the nation has long been documented through various surveys and other assessments.
“We’ve been told this in untold meetings with the economic development corporation, school districts and everybody in between. We’ve heard and experienced all the issues caused by the shortage and how childcare affects this county wide,” Dickinson County Administrator Brad Homman told commissioners during their June 30 work session. “We want to create some type of early childhood development program in two of the school districts – Herington and Solomon – to start educating children more at an earlier age so when they get into kindergarten they’ll be prepared for it and also solve the daycare issue at the same time,” Homman said. He presented a proposal explaining the need for daycare services in the county, looking at the short term needs for parents, while also providing a long-term solution that could positively impact the economic and physical growth of the county.
The county will use some of its ARPA funds — distributed to the county and entities nationwide to aid in the economic recovery of the COVID-19 pandemic — to build two early childhood development learning facilities. One in Solomon and the other in Herington.The two school districts already are equipped to operate a program. The only problem is they need a facility, Homman said.
“They have room on their (school) grounds, they have the resources to employ certified people, they have human resources and payroll, food service programs that work with the federal education requirements and all the things that go with something like this and they have the administration to manage it,” Homman said. “They already have operational programs and they have the ability to sustain it. That’s really the issue,” he explained. “There’s not a lot of money in daycare.” Solomon currently has approximately 20 to 25 children on a waiting list for daycare, while a daycare provider in Herington has about 30 to 35 on a waiting list. Homman, who has long- served on the Solomon USD 393 school board, said the district has been
negatively impacted by the lack of daycare options.
One example is when it comes to hiring staff.
“There’s a challenge in hiring teachers with young children because there’s no care for them. So,
they go on to work in a larger district where they have more child care options,” Homman
The same is true for the Herington district.
Homman and Asst. County Administrator/Finance Director Janelle Dockendorf have been meeting
with the superintendents from those two districts to develop plans.
Although the early childhood development facilities will be built on school grounds they will serve
“Other employers outside of the school settings are also facing huge challenges in attracting
potential employees because there simply are not enough licensed childcare facilities to meet the
demands of today’s families,” Homman wrote in his report to commissioners.
The lack of daycare forces parents to either stay home and care for their children, or look to larger
communities to live and work, where childcare options are more prevalent.
“That results in less growth in our county and a decreased work pool of potential job applicants for all employers, which has caused a slowed economic growth for our county,” Homman wrote.
Finding childcare has long been a problem across Kansas, but the COVID pandemic made the situation worse. The pandemic was especially hard on what Homman calls “ma and pa” daycares where the grandparents were caring for their children. “But in the light of COVID, a lot of those went away. Grandma and grandpa were afraid of having the kids in the house because they didn’t want to be exposed to it,” Homman said. By creating approximately 50 additional childcare slots in the county (25 in Herington and 25 in Solomon), that should create space for other daycare operators operating in the county. Currently, many families are driving to other communities for childcare.
“A lot of those people who are bringing their kids to Abilene to a childcare center here, then going back to work in Solomon, Hope or the Herington area would be able to have that need filled in those communities and open up some slots in Abilene,” Homman said. Providing needed childcare for families also could positively affect the county’s housing shortage.
Homman said he’s seeing people who are willing to build homes in the county if it’s a place where all their needs are met. However, if they do not have a means to care for their young children, moving here is not an option for them.
Homman said Chapman school leaders were involved in early discussions, but felt their school district would not benefit. As for Abilene, it was felt that community – which already has several privately-owned daycare centers plus the Head Start Early Education program – was already covered.