Child care cuts bleed forever

Kentucky's educators and school boards deserve a round of applause for jumping at the chance to raise the dropout age.

It's hard to celebrate this boon for Kentuckians at the end of their childhoods, though, at a time when the rug is being jerked out from under thousands of younger children and their families.

The cuts in child care assistance that began July 1 represent brutal failures by Congress and the General Assembly to plan for the future by caring for children today.

We should be expanding high-quality day care and early childhood education, critical responsibilities in which this country trails our economic competitors.

Instead Kentucky is making almost $87 million in cuts that are expected to end child care subsidies for more than 14,000 children in almost 9,000 families.

A working single mother of an infant, whose monthly gross income of $1,300 puts her just above the poverty line, will see her child care costs go from $80 a month subsidized to $700 a month or more without the subsidy.

As a result, some children will be put in immediate danger as parents are forced into cheaper child care arrangements.

More parents will turn to welfare as they can no longer afford to work. Businesses that were recruited with state tax incentives will lose trained workers.

And child care centers, especially those that serve the neediest children, will be forced to lay off workers, cut quality and perhaps even close their doors.

What will all this mean to future high school classes? Nothing good, that's for sure.

Early childhood experiences are critical to later success in school and life, as volumes of research have shown.

Kentucky is setting up a lot of kids — and itself — for failure and untold costs down the road, all because of an $87 million hole in a $28.5 billion General Fund budget.

Child care assistance is funded through a federal block grant that has always fallen short of need. Kentucky's Department for Community Based Services has supplemented child care aid with savings generated by the welfare reforms of the 1990s and, more recently, the federal stimulus act.

The stimulus is over, and the welfare reform savings have been drained. On top of that, state funding for community-based services, including child protection, has been slashed by $59 million in recent years, and now the federal sequester is creating a new set of strains.

Faced with a shortfall in a social services budget stretched to breaking, officials had nowhere to cut without inflicting great harm. The outlook will be no better in the next budget without new sources of revenue.

The state spending cuts also include cuts in kinship care funds, which help grandparents and other family members care for children who have been neglected or abused, a population that is soaring in tandem with Kentucky's addiction plague.

Though hard to celebrate, the enthusiasm for keeping teens in school is noteworthy and admirable.

Because 55 percent of districts quickly approved, the mandatory attendance age will rise to 18 statewide by 2017. Given the grass-roots enthusiasm, it's hard to understand why Republicans in the legislature blocked the change for five years.

Kentuckians are hungry for better education and a brighter future. It's their elected leaders who keep falling short.