For more than a dozen years, parents attending Eastern Washington University counted on small subsidies from student fees to help with day-care costs.
That support was stripped last month by student leaders who no longer favor providing cash for child care.
“It’s free money. It’s a handout,” said student body President Justin Franke.
Franke ordered a halt to the subsidies in February, and was later backed in a vote by the student council. He said he wants to use the money for clubs and campus events, not baby-sitting.
That leaves parents angry and in a lurch. Some are circulating a petition to recall Franke.
“I depend on the subsidy,” said Anna Belknap, a junior planning to become a teacher.
She and her husband have a 10-month-old boy, and Belknap leaves him at a YMCA-run day-care center just off campus.
Even though her husband has a job, the two struggle financially, like many students.
“I can’t take an infant to school with me,” Belknap said.
Some faculty members report that more students are bringing children to class, and that’s a distraction.
EWU doesn’t have day care on campus, but works through the YMCA to provide the service at a nearby center owned by the city of Cheney. The university handles the maintenance.
Students and EWU employees pay less at the YMCA day care than they would at comparable facilities.
Director Lisa Constantine said she is serving about 100 families now, and has a waiting list from others who want to take advantage of the lower cost and convenience. Many of her parents receive student subsidies.
During fall quarter, the subsidies went to 118 parents, who got an average of $150 for child care. The program has been in place for at least 13 years, and was budgeted at $51,000 for the 1995-96 school year.
The payments will continue for winter quarter, but are being terminated for spring quarter.
Over the years, the money has come from a portion of tuition earmarked for student activities.
Franke ignited the controversy last month when he announced he was ending the payments because he doesn’t agree with them philosophically.
He said it’s unfair that some students get child-care subsidies while non-parents don’t.
More than that, he said, only parents who know about and apply for the subsidies get the money, and parents who are unaware of the program get nothing.
Parents said they don’t have time to get involved in on-campus activities. They said the subsidies keep college available to everyone, including young parents who are working toward careers.
Their recall drive against Franke apparently is short of the signatures it needs, one of the sponsors said.
Rather than give subsidies to 118 families, Franke said he would prefer a university-owned day care on campus. The university has about 600 parents.
He said on-campus day care is available at other colleges, including Washington State University and the community colleges in Spokane.
The university has no plans for providing on-campus day care, although EWU Trustee Jean Beschel spoke in favor of such a move at the board’s January meeting.
George Durrie, the university’s director of governmental relations, said EWU’s current day-care program has worked well, and is not that much different from those on other campuses.
Parents faced with the subsidy cut said Franke is grabbing their money for his pet programs.
“Obviously, he doesn’t have a family,” said Patrick Hakes, a member of the student council and a parent who receives the child-care subsidy.
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