In the colorful 3-year-old classroom at Our Place to Grow, children sat at a table coloring. A teacher enthusiastically kept them on task.

During the day, toddlers have playtime with an array of toys, breaks outside on age-specific play equipment, and balanced meals and snacks that meet U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines.

"We want this to be a place parents want to bring their children, and a place children want to come to every day," said Alexis Deutscher, mother of four andowner of the child care center, which opened last year on Washburn Way.

Parents and child care providers around Klamath County echo that expectation.

"Most brain development happens in the first three years of life," said Patty Carty, child care provider consultant at the Child Care Resource Network of Southern Oregon. "So when children are in good child care those first three years, you're giving them the best gift you could possibly give."

But that gift is not cheap.

Last year, the average cost of child care in Oregon was more than $10,300 a year, according to an Oregon State University College of Public Health and Human Sciences study released this week.

In Klamath County, the average annual cost of care at a child care center is $6,740 - $50 short of matching the average annual cost of college tuition at a state institution.

Industry experts say care providers aren't raking in profit: that cost covers Oregon's high minimum wage and stringent staffing and certification requirements.

"It's a big quandary," Carty said. "Child care providers aren't living in the lap of luxury, but families are struggling to pay for it."

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