Child-care cuts hurt Kentucky's future

Business leaders understand they can't build a competitive work force unless their workers have good options for child care, which is why Lexmark just dedicated a 25,500-square foot Center for Children at its Lexington headquarters.

At this week's ribbon cutting, Lexmark Chairman and CEO Paul Rooke said working parents are "integral to Lexmark's success," reports KyForward editor Judy Clabes.

What's true for businesses is also true for states, which is why the current dismantling of Kentucky's child-care system will have disastrous consequences, not just for children and families but also for the state's economy.

Lawmakers heard last week that more than 80 child-care centers have closed since the state began slashing subsidies in April.

The best estimate from Kentucky Youth Advocates chief Terry Brooks was that the state has lost 87 child care centers.

Some new centers have popped up but they are usually smaller and offer inferior care, he said.

Brooks estimated that as many as 25,000 children could be dropped from the subsidy program over the next year.

Lawmakers were told that Kentucky ranks dead last among states in spending on child care assistance.

That last-place ranking has implications not just for the welfare of children but also for the quality of the state's work force.

You could argue that businesses should pay their workers enough to care for their children or that all businesses should do as Lexmark and provide child care. In a better world, you'd have a point.

In the real world, most businesses are too small and lack the resources of a Lexmark. And many Kentuckians are working for wages that barely pay for food and shelter much less child care, which is not cheap.

Many low-wage employers have been recruited to Kentucky with state tax breaks, and some of them have trained workers who can no longer afford to keep their jobs because of the child care cuts.

A state policy that pushes trained workers out of work and onto welfare doesn't make a lot of sense. Neither does putting young children in less-than-safe situations so their parents can work.

Kentucky was forced into this shortsighted policy by an $87 million shortfall in the Community-Based Services budget, which has suffered $59 million in state cuts in recent years.

The child-care cuts are a particularly brutal example of how the failure to reform the tax code to generate enough revenue is hurting Kentucky's economic competitiveness. But it is just one of many such examples.