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CEI aims to help parents stay in college through child care grant


IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (KIFI/KIDK) - The U.S. Department of Education awarded College of Eastern Idaho (CEI) a $120,000 child care grant. The Child Care Access Means Parents in Schools (CCAMPIS) grant offers CEI students $30,000 in child care vouchers over four years beginning October 1, 2020 and continuing until September 30, 2025.

The CCAMPIS Program supports the participation of low-income students in postsecondary education through the provision of child care referrals to local licensed providers. Students in any of CEI’s credit-based programs, general education, or career technical education, are eligible to apply for help. 

CEI also received a Community Development Block grant for $8,636 this year from the city of Idaho Falls for child care vouchers. This CCAMPIS federal grant will expand CEI’s child care support services, with 100% of the funds going directly to student child care vouchers. 

A parent must be a current full-time student at CEI to receive a full award from CCAMPIS. Part-time students may be eligible for partial assistance. The grant allows CEI to offer child care referrals to low-income families at either no cost or an affordable cost relative to the student’s income. 

“Obviously from a parent’s perspective, knowing that your child is in a safe and secure environment and can be there while you go to school, while you need to visit the Tutoring Center and take an exam, that is covered and you can focus that time on your education and on your classwork, knowing that your children are safe and taken care of is really a great benefit to our students," Julie McMurtrey, senior coordinator for the Center for New Directions at CEI said.

As a new community college, CEI does not currently have a child care center. As such, licensed local child care providers will be eligible to participate in the program with child care vouchers issued to them based on the student’s application. 

McMurtrey says the Center for New Directions (CND) aims to connect students with resources on campus and within the community. Their goal is to alleviate any barriers preventing students from successfully completing their degrees. 

“One of those barriers that we have noticed for several years now is childcare, especially for low income and our single parent families,” McMurtrey said.

McMurtrey says about a year ago, first generation and/or low income students made up about two-thirds of the CEI student body. She says those students typically don’t have support outside of school to help them navigate the processes and figure out how to pay for necessities that will allow them to earn their degrees.

Parents can select their own licensed childcare provider who meets all of the state’s criteria for health and safety and other areas. The student must then go through an eligibility process with CND and payments are made through CEI directly to the provider on behalf of the student.

“We have been running it about a month and we probably have a dozen applications pending and then we have half a dozen that have gone through the entire process and are already starting to see the benefits of that,” McMurtrey said.

Paige Saoirse is studying for an Associates of Art degree at CEI. She recently went through a divorce and became a single parent of 2 children. She was awarded the child care grant this month.

“That was a huge relief because the childcare specifically, I did get support through the state for that but there are copays that I have to pay,” Saoirse said. “As a single parent, the copays together for me were just about $200. That’s a couple days work for a single parent, especially with the minimum wage being $7.25 an hour here.”

Mike Walker, Dean of Student Affairs at CEI says the child care grant is available to students regardless if they receive state funding or not. The grant will pay child care copays in the event the student receives funding from organizations like ICCP or will pay provider balances in full. When a student becomes eligible for the grant, it pays for the entire semester and the checks will go to the provider to reduce student worry. CND staff will meet with the student during breaks to ensure their child care needs are being met and to allocate funds and resources for the upcoming semester.

Saoirse says child care in this area for one child ranges anywhere from $400-$700 and on top of other bills, it is nearly impossible for a single parent to pay out of pocket for those expenses, especially when they are only making minimum wage. Saoirse says she works out of state because she can’t make an adequate income to support her family here in Idaho.

“It’s been killer. It’s been amazing,” Saoirse said. “Just this month, I’ve got to spend a lot of time with my kids, catch up on my homework that I was behind on, and I actually have the ability to plan ahead for my semester. That’s just like a $200 benefit for me. It seems so small, but overall it was really big for me just for this month.”

Saoirse says she can actually focus without having to stress about money and her son is able to receive an education through a Montessori preschool. She says her daughter has autism and she has been able to find a child care provider who can accommodate her needs. 

“I get to make sure that I don’t have to stress about money as well, which is huge,” Saoirse said. “Stressing about money takes up like half your brain as a single parent, I feel is just one more thing that you don’t get the chance to take a break from and focus on the important stuff like spending time with your kids, focusing on your education, and that kind of stuff.”

The Center for New Directions office on what is now the College of Eastern Idaho campus was put into place in the late 80s through Idaho state statute. Their mission was to serve single parents and displaced homemakers. They also serve non traditional students, which is defined as a student entering a career that is represented by one gender at 25% or less. At CEI, that tends to translate into females going into trades, cybersecurity, computer networking, and radiation safety while males enroll in healthcare programs.

“This place definitely has been a good jumping off point for me because I got to see not only that people struggle but that there’s also a good ‘after’,” Saoirse said. “They had to go through all that hard to get to something that’s way better than anybody could have seen coming for themselves. So it’s been really good to see, in general, that there’s not bad people, there are a lot of good people in the world, especially here.”

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Chelsea Briar

Chelsea is a reporter and producer for Local News 8 and KIDK Eyewitness News 3.


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