Barrett Early Learning Center
Charlottesville, Va. July 19, 2013
The president of the board for the Barrett Early Learning Center says a state mandate is partly to blame for the center's impending closure next month.
The center caters children aged two to five from low-income families, and has operated on Ridge Street for 78 years. It averages about 35 students a year. But due to financial pressures, it will close on August 16.
"It's a decision that we agonized over the last couple weeks," said board president Carlos Armengol. "It really is heartbreaking for me personally."
Armengol is concerned that many of the children the center serves will have nowhere else to go.
"I suspect that many of them will have to attend private sitters or rely on other family," Armengol said. "It's a shame because what I'd like for them to be able to do is receive a good education."
Armengol blames a recent state mandate for some of the financial problems.
"Two years ago the state instituted a new system," said Armengol. "It's made getting money that we are owed very difficult to get."
The state reimburses the center for each low-income child it serves, but in 2011 the state started requiring all of the children to have a swipe card.
"I figure they felt like this was a good way to prevent fraud," Armengol.
Instead, Armengol says the swipe cards have prevented the Barrett Center from getting the money it deserved. If the child forgot the card, or didn't yet have one issued from the state, the center did not get paid.
"Then the system doesn't think that they were present," Armengol said. "Then it becomes difficult to prove that they were there."
The swipe cards are not the only reason the center is financially strapped. Armengol says donations have also dried up since the Recession.
He is concerned not only for the students, but also for the teachers.
"They've dedicated a lot of their own time, their own resources, and some of it has been on their own dime," Armengol said. "It's heartbreaking to have to tell them that we're closing the center. As they said to me just today, it's home for them."