The 2022 legislative session has ended, and now Kentucky’s lawmakers are dedicating their time to interim meetings in order to learn more about issues pressing the Commonwealth.
This year a new committee has been added specifically to look at Kentucky’s early care and education systems – the Early Childhood Education Task Force is chaired by Senator Danny Carroll from Paducah and Representative Samara Heavrin from Leitchfield. They are joined by Senators Wil Schroder, Reginald Thomas, and Mike Wilson, as well as Representatives Adam Bowling, Scott Sharp, and Josie Raymond. The task force will have six meetings during the interim and create a list of policy recommendations for the 2023 legislative session.
During the first task force meeting on Tuesday, June 28th, co-chair Senator Danny Carroll stressed that his goal was to look at all aspects of early childhood education in the Commonwealth to see what programs were working for Kentuckians and to find ways to improve the infrastructure of the system. There was a specific emphasis placed on the success of Kentucky’s independent child care programs. This was a system that was already struggling before the onset of the pandemic, but after months of dramatic financial loss beginning in 2020, child care programs are having a difficult time surviving in Kentucky’s economy. Once the one-time federal aid packages have been used, then the current child care structure could suffer significant losses.
By looking at the system infrastructure, regulations, health and safety practices, and business opportunities, the task force wants to find ways to make the system more structurally sound. The task force will also be carefully looking at plans that have been successful in other states to see if Kentucky would be able to copy those models.
Co-chair Heavrin stressed the importance of child care to make sure that parents have the opportunity to go to work and support their families, particularly working mothers. With the loss of child care options the past two years, many more mothers have made the difficult choice to leave their jobs in order to stay home with their children. These hard choices cause the business community to lose dedicated employees and are making it even harder to find new workers to fill those empty roles.
The first task force meeting was solely dedicated to a presentation from Kentucky Youth Advocates on the state of early childhood programs in Kentucky, with particular emphasis on child care. The five programs discussed at the meeting included:
- Health Access Nurturing Development Services (HANDS) – a home visiting program run through the Department for Public Health for pregnant mothers and children from birth to age two
- First Steps – an early intervention program run through the Department for Public Health that supports infants and toddlers from birth to until age 3 for children diagnosed with a developmental delay
- Public School Preschool – a preschool program run through the local public school systems for children three-years and four-years of age who have a diagnosed developmental delay or whose families are at 160% of the Federal Poverty Level or below
- Head Start and Early Head Start – local early care and education programs for children from birth through age five that are funded by the federal government and implemented by local non-profit organizations or public schools
- Child Care Programs – independent early care and education programs for children from birth through school age care that are primarily funded by families with some funding through state and federal subsidy programs
The description of these programs included discussions on which counties have a shortage of services, which families need more support to access services, and the challenges of staffing early care and education programs due to low wages and challenging circumstances. It was noted that many children of color and children with disabilities still need access to high quality care throughout the state. There is also a significant shortage of child care for families that must work on the weekends or during 2nd and 3rd shift time slots. It is hard to attract staff to these underserved shifts when the hospitality industry and the retail industry are paying higher wages that most child care programs can afford.
You can watch a full recording of the task force meeting here. Additionally, KYA presented the following information for committee members: State of Child Care fact sheet, Child Care and Development Block Grant, and Child Care Program Supports Offered in Kentucky.
The task force will begin the following thread of meetings with a brainstorming approach for solving some of these challenges. In order to hear as many voices as possible in future meetings, the task force plans to set up the committee meeting with round tables and microphones for the audience to encourage many different stakeholders to share their expertise and concerns. This is an opportunity for educators, administrators, advocates, and parents to come to the table and express their opinions. All meetings will be held at the Capitol Annex in Frankfort. The remaining meeting dates are:
- July 26, 2022 at 1:00 PM
- August 24, 2022 at 1:00 PM
- September 22, 2022 at 3:00 PM
- October 20, 2022 at 3:00 PM
- November 17, 2022 at 3:00 PM
We look forward to engaging in the remaining task force meetings with legislators, child advocates, and partners from across the state!