Kentucky’s Early Childhood Education Task Force has been meeting diligently since June to obtain a greater understanding of Kentucky’s child care resources and how the state can better support that infrastructure to assist families and local businesses. On November 21st, the committee formally presented its findings and recommendations for the rest of Kentucky’s General Assembly.  

Among its findings, the committee identified that Kentucky does not have enough child care available for all working families and that a lack of child care is impacting which adults in our state can enter the workforce. The committee also identified the high cost of child care and how essential it is for programs like the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) to be in place to assist low-income families with the high cost of care. Along with CCAP, the committee also acknowledged the importance of a new financial assistance program created by House Bill 499 of 2022 to allow employers to partner with the state to subsidize the cost of the employee’s child care as a benefit to employment, similar to paid time off or health insurance. This program is still in the planning phase, but it will begin in July 2023.

After months of hearing from child care providers, advocacy groups, and policy specialists, the committee also put together their formal list of recommendations: 

  • Encourage the Division of Child Care to keep the changes implemented during the pandemic with one-time federal relief funding in place in order to support more families throughout the Commonwealth, including:
    • Expanded access to CCAP so that more families could receive support. These changes involved increasing the entry of families into the program, as well as reimbursing the child care programs at a higher rate for the families served through the subsidy program.
    • Updated qualifications for the CCAP program to include all child care providers that work at least 20 hours per week in a regulated center or family child care home. This change was put into place, not only to offer an added benefit to child care providers that make a low-wage, but also to encourage child care providers to return to the field and fully staff empty classrooms across the state.
  • Encourage the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to offer more business coaching programs for child care program management and for the Cabinet for Economic Development to support the child care programs with guidance on tax laws that could alleviate financial stress.  
  • Strengthen local property zoning regulations to increase Kentucky’s number of family child care homes. Family child care homes tend to succeed in rural areas rather than child care centers as these small businesses have more freedom to operate during non-traditional work hours for families that work night shifts or on the weekends. Many communities have zoning laws that prohibit a family child care home from operating in a residential area. The committee has asked the Kentucky League of Cities, the Kentucky Department of Local Government, and the Kentucky Association of Counties to help communities formalize their zoning laws in order to support the growth of family child care homes.
  • Encourage private child care businesses, Head Start programs, and public school preschool programs to find ways to create partnerships together. The creation of these partnerships, like a partnership between a child care program and an Early Head Start program, can allow the programs to use funding from both sources to increase quality and financially stabilize the learning environment. Public and private partnerships for early childhood programs are already allowed in the state, but they are not frequently utilized. Head Start programs partner with child care and with public school programs on a regular basis, but Kentucky needs to expand the partnerships between private child care and public school preschool to expand all day services for families and create higher quality child care for children with and without disabilities.

The recommendations made by the committee are all beneficial to Kentucky children and families, but they are only the first step towards creating a thriving early childhood infrastructure that supports children, families, and local economies. The 2023 legislative session is right around the corner; however, it is not a budget session for the General Assembly. With many of the recommendations made by the Early Childhood Task Force in need financial support, they will need to wait until the 2024 legislative session.  

In the meantime, the early childhood advocacy community needs to focus on educating the full General Assembly on why early childhood education is important. The federal pandemic-relief funding must be spent by September 30, 2024, but our child care programs are still financially vulnerable. Kentucky must have a plan in place for child care before that time.

Child care providers and families need to reach out to their elected officials and share some of these essential points:

  • Kentucky families can’t afford an increase in child care costs.
  • Kentucky child care programs can’t find enough staff to work for the wages they are offering.
  • If my child care program has to close due to lack of funding, who will care for my children so that I can go to work?
  • Please make increasing access to child care your top priority.

Kentucky legislators need to hear the personal stories of the child care providers and the families that are affected by the child care crisis.  Those are the stories that will help make these task force recommendations possible.