The conference kicked off with powerful messages from the Governor’s Office of Early Childhood, Governor Beshear, and guest speaker and, former Congressman, author and Senior Vice President of Strategic Initiatives at Save the Children, Mark Shriver. The overall message from the opening plenary being that the earliest years are some of the most important, and we need to make sure kids get the strongest start possible.
The opening plenary set the tone for the entire conference. As I moved between sessions, I was surrounded by over 1,000 individuals that were attending the conference from across the state for the same reason I was: to learn more about the best way to serve kids and our communities within early childhood care and education.
The Ready Kids Conference provided sessions led by experts in the field from right here in Kentucky. The knowledge and experience on the topics as well as the Kentuckian lens made the sessions informative and extremely relevant.
During the conference, I spoke with fellow attendees, many of them child care providers, preschool employees or administrators, and often the conversation would turn to last year’s cuts to the Child Care Assistance Program. The providers discussed how children were no longer able to attend child care and how their program was in jeopardy of closing or cutting hours. Preschool teachers and classroom aides spoke of the impact they have seen in the number of children no longer attending their half day classes because of the interruption at home related to the cuts. As an advocate, I have heard countless stories like these, often over the phone or secondhand, but not to the extent that I heard during the conference. It was a powerful experience.
What many of the attendees didn’t know, nor did I at the time, was that Governor Steve Beshear was going to announce that child care cuts scheduled to be restored, would be restored to 140 percent of the federal poverty level on August 4, 2014. I assume that all of those people I discussed this with felt a weight lifted after hearing that announcement on Friday, June 20th. This restoration of Child Care Assistance Program funding will allow kids to attend quality child care and give their parents an opportunity to go to work without the worry that their children are not safe.
After leaving the conference, I felt energized to keep doing what I can to ensure that Kentucky’s children have the best opportunity for a strong start. The Governor’s Office of Early Childhood, the Governor and the Cabinet have all helped to keep Kentucky on the path for success by prioritizing children in the budget.