The latest national KIDS COUNT Data Book co-released by Kentucky Youth Advocates and the Annie E. Casey Foundation data shows that Kentucky is moving in the wrong direction on 3- and 4-year-olds enrolled in school, with 60% of this age group not enrolled in school. Of those who are enrolled, we know that many children in Kentucky attend preschool through a licensed child care center, which serves a dual purpose of helping children get the skills they need to thrive in kindergarten and beyond while also keeping them safe and cared for while their parents to work.

The pandemic has shown that without child care, our families, our communities, and the economy cannot successfully function. In effect, child care serves as basic infrastructure – but one that has seen limited public investment.

As a result, 50 percent of Kentuckians live in a child care desert, meaning they have limited to no access to licensed child care. The limited infrastructure was greatly threatened by the pandemic as child care providers struggled to keep their businesses afloat. We also know that many parents – particularly mothers – left the workforce due to lack of affordable child care options during the pandemic.

Fortunately, Kentucky’s child care sector is getting some much needed investment to not only stabilize the child care sector but also use this opportunity to reimagine and move toward a better system that truly meets the needs of children, parents, and employers.

In addition, state legislators included funding in the most recent state budget to increase reimbursement rates for providers who participate in the child care assistance program, which is critical to ensure access to care for low-income children. This $2/day per child increase went into effect on July 1 and is a crucial step in the right direction.

On June 24, Governor Beshear announced plans for the $763 million in Federal funds allocated to Kentucky’s child care system via the American Rescue Plan. The largest portion of the funding – over $470 million – is designated for sustainability payments that will be distributed to child care providers throughout the state beginning in October 2021. The second stream of funding, over $293 million, is slightly more flexible and the federal government has designated it for four specific purposes, including:

  • Increasing provider payments
  • Improving payment policies
  • Increasing wages for early educators and family child care homes; and
  • Building the supply of child care for underserved populations.

The Division of Child Care (DCC) will be sending out more notifications on each individual project as applications and timelines are finalized. We will continue to share those details as they are announced.

In the meantime, it’s time to let our members of Congress know how grateful we are for this much-needed relief!

These relief funds will help stabilize an otherwise collapsing child care sector, support parents and other caregivers’ ability to work and care for children, support children’s healthy development, and raise wages for the essential workers who care for and educate children every day.

The pandemic has laid bare and exacerbated the deep inequities of a child care system that relies on families paying unaffordable sums, early educators being paid poverty-level wages, and too many counties across the country lacking sufficient workforce or facilities to meet child care demands.

It is time to put a stake in the ground and build a comprehensive child care and early education system that works for our nation’s children, families, educators, and economy.