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WCCC faces funding dilemma

Alexis Barker, News Editor

An “archaic” funding system for child development centers is affecting services across the state, including the Weston County Children’s Center in Newcastle, according to Francie Gregory, WCCC’s director. 
“We just can’t keep functioning,” Gregory told the News Letter Journal. 
With only $4 million in funding to be spread across 14 regions statewide over two years, she said, CDCs across the state are in trouble due to rising costs and unfunded mandates. 
For over 50 years, according to Alisha Rone with Child Development Services of Wyoming in a press release titled “Wyoming Child Development Centers will start to close without a funding increase this legislative session,” child development centers like the WCCC have served children with “early intervention services, preschool, family service coordination, and more.” 
Each year, thousands of children in Wyoming have a diagnosis or show developmental delays and are served by these centers.
“Should a child show a delay in speech/language, gross and fine motor skills or cognitive skills the CDCs step in to get them on track and prepared for kindergarten,” the release says. “While each CDC in the 14 regions across the state is different, they all share the common goal of providing premiere, family-focused early intervention services for children who need it most.” 
According to Gregory, early intervention in education is the most effective. She said that from birth to age 5 is the “prime time” in brain development. 
Gregory said there are currently 120 children in Crook and Weston counties receiving services through the local center. She noted that this number is about average, with 115 to 120 children receiving services annually. 
With counts for these children turned in to the state already, every child the center picks up between now and Dec. 1, 2024, will be provided services without additional funding. 
“We screen constantly,” she said. “We are constantly getting referrals.” 
She added that the center will likely pick up roughly 20 kids between now and the end of the 2023-24 school year with their annual screening scheduled for August. According to Gregory, the WCCC receives $9,000 each for children between the ages of 3 and 5 who receive services. For children younger than that, the center receives $7,000. 
“Up until 2022, the CDCs were receiving an average of $8,674 per child to provide early intervention services,” the press release says. 
“That amount is supposed to cover preschool for a child for a year, OT, PT and speech services, facilities, maintenance, specialties, and more. It simply is not sufficient to meet the needs,” said Rone, who is also the executive director of the Child Development Center of Natrona County. 
In 2022, the state granted the CDCs an external cost adjustment of $4 million over two years, and it was divided among the 14 regions. 
Gregory said that the funding the WCCC receives covers salaries for service providers, but the cost per child varies, she said, with occupational and physical therapies provided. 
If preschool spots are not available at the center, Gregory said that private tuition to another preschool must be paid for the required Individual Learning Plan days. She noted that in Jackson, this is a big problem with some private tuitions costing up to $40,000 a year. 
The funding provided for services is a “drop in the bucket,” said Patti Boyd, executive director of the Children’s Learning Center of Teton County.
“Without a substantial increase in funding, I’m afraid in our region we will not be able to continue as is, and we may have to discontinue services all together,” Boyd said in the release. 
According to Gregoy, the WCCC hasn’t had a balanced budget in three years and is currently running on reserves. 
“I don’t know what happens to those kids. There isn’t really a plan if CDCs go away,” she said, noting that some people think school districts could take on the task. “But they are not equipped for that.” 
“There is no plan if the CDCs go away. School districts cannot support these children, and we cannot leave any child behind. It is the state’s obligation to provide these services, and it is the child’s right to receive these services,” said Tricia Whynott, executive director of STRIDE Learning Center in Laramie County. 
According to the release, a bill in the upcoming legislative session, if passed, will provide an increase to the per-child amount for CDCs. 
Without the increase, Gregory said, she is unsure of how the local center will manage moving forward. In addition to the shortfalls in funding for services, she added that the center also has unmet maintenance issues and old age confronting both its building and vehicles. 
“We get nothing for building maintenance. The building was built in 1988, and there are unmet maintenance needs,” Gregory said.

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