Parent Scramble for Childcare After Clayton Early Learning Shutters One Campus

On Wednesday, June 28, parents at Educare Denver at Clayton Early Learning were informed that come August 18, their children would no longer be able to attend the school, leaving some thirty families scrambling to find childcare in six weeks.

“It is impossible to find quality infant care in the City and County of Denver [that quickly],” says Keith Valentine, whose two young sons attend Educare. “My first son waited a year and a half on Clayton’s list. The only reason my second son got in [this May] is because they used my first son’s application, which was from three years prior.”

Clayton Early Learning currently has two area campuses. However, it is closing its Early Learning school in northeast Denver due to financial reasons and will move its students to Educare, displacing the tuition-paying children that attend there right now. Educare is located on Clayton’s historic campus in northeast Denver, which began 100 years ago as an orphanage and later served needy boys.

“I pay $2,500 a month in child care — not because I can afford it,” says Valentine, who is a law enforcement officer in Denver. “I work 75 hours a week.... We just took a second mortgage out on our house to be able to afford tuition.”

In a statement issued today, June 29, the school wrote that a “widening gap between public and private revenue sources, and the actual cost of operations at the [Early Learning center] has become financially unsustainable.

“Clayton immediately launched a comprehensive plan to consolidate operations with its Educare Denver School, beginning with a careful examination of its classroom capacity as a Head Start and Early Head Start program,” the release continues. “To facilitate the consolidation efforts, also as of August 18, 2017, the Educare Denver School on the main Clayton campus will no longer have space to serve tuition-paying families.” Clayton will temporarily postpone hiring to allow the thirty displaced staff members to apply for the open positions, of which there are currently 21.

Though Clayton Early Learning has about $33 million in assets, it tries to spend no more than 5 percent on an ongoing basis, says Charlotte Brantley, president and CEO of Clayton Early Learning. “We can’t just spend $33 million in the next year,” she says. “If we did that, we’d put ourselves completely out of business.

“We know this is incredibly difficult,” Brantley continues. “We regret having to be at this place, but bottom line, we simply can’t continue to sustain the operations. We’re having to spend more like 7.5 percent, and we just can’t sustain that.”

Educare Denver opened in 2007 and accepted private-pay families in 2012 who “desired a high-quality, diverse preschool experience for their children enriched by students from different backgrounds,” according to the school’s website. Clayton Early Learning opened in Green Valley Ranch in January 2013. “We had hoped by opening [Early Learning] that it would bring to the forefront the need for more public investment in quality early education,” Brantley says. “We’re not seeing that occur, and we simply can’t do it by ourselves.”

Clayton Early Learning relied on CFEs — child-family educators, who mostly focus on clerical work — to hand parents a letter informing them of the decision on Wednesday. A CFE who personally knew some parents informed them of the decision earlier, and the parents sent an e-mail to their friends notifying them of the decision. Letters were also mailed to parents on Tuesday, and administrators were made available to discuss the decision after school on Wednesday.

For his second son, who was born in January, to secure a spot at the school, Clayton required Valentine to pay $1,400 a month between February and April so the infant could finally enroll on May 1. “Before my son even took a breath in the building, I was paying tuition,” he explains.

For Valentine, part of the appeal of Educare Denver, aside from the relatively affordable tuition, was the student population’s socioeconomic diversity. As a tuition-paying family, Valentine says he knew he was subsidizing some of the other children’s education, which he says he never minded. “I grew up in a single-family household,” he says. “I have no issue with that. What I have an issue with is them telling me that my kid is not as important as someone else’s because we don’t fall in their target group of families.”

Clayton will hold a meeting at 4 p.m. today with parents, administrators and board members at the historic campus, 3751 Martin Luther King Boulevard.