State support for early education childcare centers in Kentucky remains a topic of debate

Republished from WEKU.

How to support early childhood care has been a debated question in Frankfort. It’s a topic that will certainly remain on the agenda in future legislative sessions.

Activity found at Lexington’s Big Blue Bird Early Childhood Center. First opening in the late 70’s, enrollment today is way down from pre-COVID days. Center Director Crystal Robertson says there’s an ongoing need for more staff.

“You know we’re just hopeful that we’re able to get more people on our staff so that we can enroll more kids. But, we’ve been sitting at the same amount for about four years now,” said Robertson.

And that’s 100 children, down from 200.

Western Kentucky GOP Senator Danny Carroll is predicting a dire scene for early childhood care and education. With federal COVID recovery dollars fading, Carroll pushed for a large infusion of state money, $300 million over the biennium. The state budget passed in the House and Senate did not include that type of funding.

Carroll worries close to a third of early childhood education centers will be forced to close. And the Benton Republican said more parents will be staying home caring for kids.

“I fear that this is gonna have a substantial impact on the ability of the Commonwealth to fill the job vacancies we have for all these businesses, this industry that’s coming into the state. So, I think there’s going to be a domino effect,” said Carroll.

Carroll noted the state funding support approved this session will primarily help in childcare assistance for parents. He added that won’t offer help in sustaining day-to-day operations at early childhood education centers.

The western Kentucky legislator said some in legislative leadership view funding support to these centers as propping up private business. Carroll said centers are restricted, and rightfully so, in the number of children they can accept to meet regulations. He noted tuition can be raised only so much. Carroll added the mindset needs to change as it comes to the importance of early learning at these facilities. At Big Blue Bird Early Childhood Center, Director Robertson said staff pay and tuition have gone up, but around nine people scheduled for employee interviews didn’t show up. She said it can be hard to compete with other businesses like fast-food restaurants. Robertson said her staff now numbers 26, down from 38 pre-COVID.

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Originally published by WEKU.

Republished with permission.