Kentucky should score a win-win by upping child-care assistance

Landon Barker built a structure as Aminata Sebor played in the background at the Big Blue Bird Early Childhood Center, 1945 Eastland Pkwy in Lexington, Dec. 18, 2013.
Landon Barker built a structure as Aminata Sebor played in the background at the Big Blue Bird Early Childhood Center, 1945 Eastland Pkwy in Lexington, Dec. 18, 2013.

January is almost here and finally state government will deal with the pension crisis in a rightful way. Gov. Matt Bevin promised that would happen on his watch and I predict it will.

Solving the pension issue will require the governor and General Assembly to tackle tax reform at some point. As they decide how to bring in more revenue, state leaders should also analyze how they can steer existing programs to perform more efficiently. Upgrading the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) is one way to generate a much needed, stronger Kentucky workforce.

CCAP’s mission is to assist thousands of young mothers working in low-pay jobs to keep those jobs and others to start their work careers.

This long-time program has received only two small reimbursement rate increases since 2002. In 2013 the administration placed the program on what was titled a temporary moratorium. Though unintended, this action caused permanent ill effects. Anyone evaluating recent statistics will reasonably conclude that CCAP is heading towards another moratorium, or worse, a shutdown.

This program served 36,000 children in late 2012. Within a few months of the 2013 moratorium, many thousands of single moms were forced into making heart-wrenching decisions. Place their children into a non-licensed, untracked and often unsafe setting? Or simply quit their jobs, stay at home and apply for welfare benefits?

Comparing late 2012 CCAP numbers to those of late 2017 shows a drop in participation of at least 20 percent. In July 2017 the state reported a 13 percent decline in licensed child-care centers compared with the prior 15-month period.

This 15-year run of basically meaningless CCAP reimbursement increases has reached a breaking point. Their bottom lines dictate that many child-care providers can no longer stay the course. Owners can’t compete to hire or keep qualified staff. Child-care providers can’t match starting job offers made by Amazon, fast food chains, grocery chains, and the list goes on. State leaders and the public need to know that there are a growing number of centers that can’t welcome newly approved CCAP children to their centers. The classrooms are there, but there are no teachers.

This pattern is bad for state coffers. Moms who want very much to be in the workforce are losing that option. The number of job openings in Kentucky is staggering. A quick internet search reveals more than 5,700 job openings in Fayette County. Kentucky’s unemployed number almost 100,000 for an unemployment rate in November of 4.7 percent. The national rate is at 4.1 percent.

To replenish state coffers, leaders must identify ways to help more Kentuckians move into jobs. A major reimbursement rate increase to CCAP will help do this and more. Yes, Kentucky has an opportunity to increase its workforce substantially. And at the same time this rightful move would assure Kentucky children high-quality care and pre-school education. Many would call this a win-win.

Steve Magre is executive director of Child Care Advocates of Kentucky in Louisville. Reach him at at stevemagre.m39@gmail.com and 502-855-0223.