Wyoming’s child care industry could get a $15 million boost

One Teton County provider says the money would help cover rising rent costs — though it’s still a long way off.
From left to right, Levi Figg, Mickey Loughrey and Giselle Nemitz play at the Montessori School of the Tetons, one potential recipient of child care funding. (Dee Buckstaff)

The Biden Administration called on Congress last week to approve emergency funding for child care. 

If the plan garners enough support, Wyoming’s child care industry could see an infusion of $15 million.

Dee Buckstaff, who owns the Montessori School of the Tetons, said that extra money is needed with rising costs. 

“I’m very concerned about having to raise my rates next year,” Buckstaff said, as the Jackson school’s 20-some kids were having snack time.


Located in a town grappling with an affordability crisis, the facility’s rent is going up 20 percent, she said.

“I feel like I already charge parents so much money. I don’t know how they can possibly afford child care,” Buckstaff said. “But I also don’t know what else to do. I have to pay my staff. I have to pay my rent.”

‘Lowering costs for families’

Last week’s announcement comes as President Joe Biden heads into an election year, touting investments in clean energy and agriculture.

As for the child care plan, the Biden administration is billing it as a way to advance economic security for women by allowing more mothers to work full time. Officials also say it’s a way to provide children with a strong start and invest in underserved communities.

In a press call, Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) said it’s a way to help middle class families. 

“These families are stretched thin, some parents working multiple jobs to just afford safe and high quality child care,” DeLauro said. “This is about lowering costs for families.”

Dee Buckstaff, who has been in child care for decades, interacts with the children at her school. (Veronica Reynoso-Romero)

In Wyoming, the potential new funding could support 470 providers and about 17,700 kids.  

But it’s still unclear who exactly that includes. 

Buckstaff said her school didn’t qualify for the last round of pandemic-era emergency funds for child care. On paper, it didn’t lose enough money due to Covid-19 shutdowns, with Wyoming only closed up for about two months.

But, according to Buckstaff, that didn’t account for rising costs — and lower capacity. The school could only safely take in a fraction of its normal class size.

“So every single spot that we don’t fill is just that much more money out of the provider’s pocket,” Buckstaff said.

She said extra funding would help her cover some of those overhead costs and retain employees.

But the child care money is still a ways off. The Biden Administration’s plan would have to be approved by the Republican-controlled House. 

DeLauro told reporters last week that supporters of funding need to “fight back.” 

“There needs to be pressure to make [Republicans] willing to do this,” DeLauro said. ”So far, the Republicans will not come to the negotiating table.”

Could billionaires be impacting Wyoming’s funding?

If the legislation does go through, Wyoming is slated to get some of the fewest dollars of any state. Colorado, for example, could get $183 million — more than twelve times as much as the Cowboy State.

This is likely because of Wyoming’s small population. 

According to a Biden Administration official, the allocation amounts are decided based on three factors: the number of children under age 5, the number of children qualifying for school lunch programs and per capita income.

“It’s a framework that worked in the past,” DeLauro said.

Anders Nemitz at the Montesorri School of the Tetons. The waitlist for the school is currently 200 kids long. (Dee Buckstaff)

Wyoming does have near the smallest number of children under five in the country.

But it’s also possible that the high amount of wealth in the state — particularly Teton County — influenced the funding numbers. In recent years, Teton County has had the highest per capita income in the country. 

Biden Administration officials didn’t respond to requests to comment about how much income factors into the funding equation.

But Buckstaff said she wouldn’t be surprised if the number of billionaires in Teton County could have trickle down effects for child care funding for all of Wyoming.

“And it’s too bad because you know who’s suffering, it’s not the billionaires,” she said. “It’s the kids and the child care providers across the entire state.” 

Coming out of the pandemic, providers across the country are struggling to pay costs and retain staff, resulting in child care deserts nationwide. 

Buckstaff said her school’s waitlist is currently 200 children long.

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About Hanna Merzbach

Hanna is KHOL's senior reporter and managing editor. A lot of her work focuses on housing and local politics, but also women's health — and whatever else she finds interesting. You can hear her reporting around the country and region on NPR, Wyoming Public Radio and community radio stations around the west. She hails from Bend, Oregon, where she reported for outlets such as the Atlantic, High Country News and Oregon Public Broadcasting. In her free time, you can find Hanna scaling rock walls or adventuring in the mountains.

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