Legislative hearing on childcare funding includes talk of challenges to establish universal pre-k in Kentucky

Republished from WEKU.

One of the many issues that is sure to get significant attention in this 60-day budget legislative session is funding for early education. That includes the debate over Universal Pre-K which surfaced during a legislative committee meeting this week.

Providing educational services to thousands of four-year-olds through a Pre-K program is a prominent topic at the State Capitol. But how, where, and when remain difficult questions to answer. Although not on the committee agenda, Health and Family Services Secretary Eric Friedlander said he felt it right to pitch Universal Pre-K, adding there are always benefits to being in schools.

“Hopefully, the things that we’ve been working on for years. We talk about kindergarten readiness and advanced scores and things like that and always frustrated with where we are as a state. Hopefully this would have some impact there,” said Friedlander.

Kentucky Secretary of Health and Family Services Eric Friedlander

Stu Johnson

Kentucky Secretary of Health and Family Services Eric Friedlander

Governor Beshear’s budget plan calls for $344 million over two years to fund universal preschool for all four-year-olds. The discussion among lawmakers centers on the question “Can the state afford such an endeavor on its own?” Benton Senator Danny Carroll chairs the Families and Children Committee.

“The hope is that local governments will take greater ownership of this issue and them combined with the Cabinet for Economic Development and will work on these issues at a local level and set up a structure that works for them,” said Carroll.

Carroll said there’s no question the demand for pre-k programming is there, but he adds the capacity to serve needs to be the focus. And he said it’s time for the state to step up with an investment.

The Senate panel also heard from Sarah Taylor Vanover, policy and research director for Kentucky Youth Advocates. Her presentation dealt with legislative options for the child care benefits cliff. That’s the term given to future strategies when federal supplemental support for childcare ends. After the meeting, Taylor Vanover said it’s both a family education and a community economic issue.

“An investment in childcare is gonna make sure that our communities are economically successful because families have the ability to work and help take care of their children and be part of the workforce. If you don’t if your child is safe during the day in care, then you’re not going to participate in the workforce. So we need quality” childcare for our kids during the day so that families can be successful and thrive,” said Taylor Vanover.

Louisville Senator Julie Raque Adams said she likes a proposal to combine adult daycare with childcare centers. Raque Adams said caring for older adults is also keeping some women out of the workforce.

Members of the Senate Health Services Committee

Stu Johnson

Members of the Senate Health Services Committee

Meanwhile, Taylor Vanover noted the move to provide universal pre-k statewide should be a measured approach. The Kentucky Youth Advocates representative added many states are going with a public-private partnership approach that still takes time.

 “States that implement it do a gradual expansion over a number of years because you can’t go from only serving a small amount of children that are low income and have disabilities in the public system to serving every four-year-old in the state the next year. That’s just a large change in policy and in services,” said Taylor Vanover.

Taylor Vanover said the public-private approach to universal pre-k eliminates the need to build hundreds of new buildings and extra staff. She said to develop such early childhood education is a great goal in time but there’s a bigger need now to stabilize the childcare industry after the federal funds are gone.

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Originally published by WEKU.

Republished with permission.