‘Who can afford that?’ Changes at SPSCC’s child care center could end up costing families.

Emily Egge says she pays $208 a month for her 2-year-old daughter to attend the child care center at South Puget Sound Community College. That’s about a fifth of tuition at the center, thanks to a subsidy from the state.

On Aug. 1, her cost will go up to $1,162 because a new provider that doesn’t accept the subsidy will take over the center.

“Who can afford that?” said Egge, a single mom who graduated SPSCC last year and now works near campus. “I feel like for a community college to invite some organization in that is going to discriminate against me is just absolutely wrong.”

Capital Region ESD 113, the public education service district that provides support to area school districts, currently runs a tuition-based child care and free preschool for low-income families at SPSCC. Sandy Nelson, interim director for early learning at ESD 113, said it can’t afford to continue to offer child care because of costly changes to employee benefits.

Starting Aug. 1, Serendipity Children’s Center in Tumwater will take over child care operations, while the ESD will continue to offer the free preschool.

Only about 10 percent of parents using the child care center are SPSCC students or staff, said Kelly Green, the college’s chief communications and legislative affairs officer.

Current tuition for all-day attendance five days a week is $927 to $1,118 depending on the child’s age. Tuition rates will go up slightly under Serendipity, but the bigger hit will be for those with subsidies, which can significantly reduce their monthly costs depending on income.

As of May, about half of families at the center received subsidies, according to Nelson.

Serendipity does not accept subsidies at its current center at 4833 Tumwater Valley Drive SE. Owner Lynnette McCarty said her goal is to accept them at SPSCC, particularly from parents who are students, but that the state’s reimbursement rate is too low.

“It is really a government problem that will need to be looked at in the long term, because fewer and fewer centers can take it,” McCarty said. “You can’t run a business on the subsidies.”

The nonpartisan Washington State Budget and Policy Center notes Washington consistently ranks among the 10 least affordable states when it comes to child care, with costs for some families that rival housing costs or college tuition.

That group has called for expanded eligibility for subsidies and increases in the state’s reimbursement rate to providers.

Earlier this year, lawmakers passed legislation calling for a study of child care affordability and the use of subsidies with the goal of ensuring affordable child care for all families by 2025.

The switch to Serendipity could be a temporary one. SPSCC’s board last week authorized college officials to contract with Serendipity while they work through the bidding process to find a long-term provider, a process that can take six months.

Green said the college is still negotiating its contract with Serendipity and wants to find a way to help parents who are students. The good news, she said, is that on-campus child care isn’t going away.

“Change is hard, but what we appreciate is that they’ll be able to come in ... quick enough that we’ll be able to have the doors open, have kids in there (in) August, September, October while we do this bid process, versus having to close the doors and have all those kids find somewhere else to go for the fall,” she said.

Abby Spegman joined The Olympian in 2017. She covers the city of Olympia and a little bit of everything else. She previously worked at newspapers in Oregon, New Hampshire and Hawaii.