Harwich Considers Preschool Subsidies

By: William F. Galvin

Selectman Julie Kavanagh is pushing for the town to subsidized preschool tuition. WILLIAM F. GALVIN PHOTO

HARWICH – With a number of Lower Cape communities offering subsidies to assist parents in paying childcare and pre-school school tuition, selectmen agreed Monday that they should examine a means of assisting young families with those expenses.

“Many of the surrounding communities are making an effort to come up with a stipend for pre-kindergarten,” Selectman Julie Kavanagh said. “We talk about housing and keeping families here, but this is one of the main reasons people can’t stay on Cape Cod. I’d like to figure out a way to offset the cost to those families.”

“This to me is a no-brainer,” agreed Selectman Larry Ballantine.

Chatham, Orleans and Eastham have subsidies in place, Kavanagh said, adding that there is a huge need for assistance in Harwich as well. There is also a lack of providers, she said.

The more our community can help people in our community with the costs makes it more likely that they can at least stay in town, if we can help defray those costs,” she said.

Town officials talk about tax abatements for the elderly, but this would be a way to help younger people in the community, Kavanagh said.

“To me it’s a no-brainer. We’re helping children get educated at an earlier age, if parents couldn’t afford it,” she said. “On top of that we’re helping the parents to be able to better afford their rent, or be able to buy a house. We’re overall helping the community, and keeping the children [here] and helping to educate them.”

Harwich has the assets to provide subsidies, she said. Selectman made it clear this is an issue that would not be solved in an evening, but Kavanagh said the board should talk more confidently about how to address the issue. She provided details of a childcare voucher program in place in Chatham.

Ballantine said he was worried about costs facing the town this year, but added he supports such a program.

How can we not help people,” said Ballantine.

Chatham’s voucher program provides financial assistance for eligible residents and employees of Chatham businesses, and is intended to help local working families in need of financial assistance with childcare needs. Chatham also established the Dr. Florence Seldin Family Support Program this year, which provides tuition assistance for 3- and 4-year-olds attending licensed pre-school. Orleans, Eastham, Wellfleet, Truro and Provincetown have similar programs, and Brewster has a childcare scholarship program. Cape Cod Children’s Place, Inc. in Eastham administers several tuition assistance and local scholarship programs for Lower Cape communities,

In defining the purpose for the Dr. Florence Seldin Family Support Program in Chatham Town Manager Jill R. Goldsmith wrote in a memo that “The town supports this program because it supports parents working/being able to work more, which builds our families and local economy and helps cost-burdened parents pay for housing and other necessary costs. This is a subsidy that helps our families and local businesses.”

Selectman Mary Anderson said she agreed with Kavanagh and Ballantine and asked Town Administrator Joseph Powers if funding is something he and Finance Director Ann Marie Ellis could look at going forward.

Powers said when he was serving as assistant town administrator in Wellfleet a childcare funding program was put in place.

I saw firsthand the progress they made,” said Powers. “It was always a question of priorities and you’ve heard me talk about that. It’s merely an appropriation, but what it does in the long run is more measurable.”

There are a series of documents that can be relied on to draft an article for the warrant, Powers said. He thanked Kavanagh for bringing the issue up, calling it “timely and something we can absolutely embrace at the staff level.”