KY’s child care industry is in desperate need of help. Frankfort must listen. | Opinion

The child care industry is under attack.

Secretary Eric Friedlander mentioned during a legislative committee meeting that the Cabinet for Health and Family Services has approximately $293 million left over from stimulus money due the child care industry. He is applying it to CCAP (Child Care Assistance Program). CCAP helps families with free child care; CCAP does not help the child care industry. Why isn’t the leftover money going towards “continued stipends” so child care facility owners can continue to pay their staff the livable wages they deserve in order to retain them?

The House of Representatives set aside approximately $80 million over a two-year period for child care in their budget but again — for CCAP. The child care industry is forever grateful that we were included in their budget but why CCAP when CCAP helps families, not the child care industry? We are still waiting for the Senate budget to be disclosed.

Let’s be clear — CCAP will always be funded. CCAP is already funded by the Child Care Development Block Grant (CCDBG) every year, for which Kentucky receives approximately $150 - $170 million every year. The child care industry receives $0 from block grant.

You can put everyone under the sun on CCAP but if licensed” child care centers are not staffed, that center cannot take on a new child. The issue is staffing — retaining and attracting new staff to the child care industry — with a competitive wage. If you don’t pay competitive wages, you lose existing staff and won’t attract new staff so you can’t watch children; therefore, you close your doors. The industry has been hit hard with a double edged sword since COVID.

Sen. Danny Carroll introduced the SB 203 Horizon’s Act / Bill this session — asking for approximately $300 million to be invested in child care. But he is asking for the money to be invested in CCAP and other “already” funded programs. This bill will not help the child care industry. “Continued stipends” are the only way to help the child care Industry escape life support. This bill also lays the ground work for a public/private partnership for universal preschool, which the child care industry is totally against. When any form of universal preschool becomes a reality, the child care industry will become extinct.

There have been bills filed in support of the child care industry. Senator Adrienne Southworth has filed SB 235 & SB 236 while Representative Josh Calloway has filed HB 775 & HB 776 — both Sen. Southworth and Rep. Calloway are true champions for the industry. These bills remain in “holding” waiting for leadership to approve them for a vote.

How can we pull the child care industry out of crisis?

1) Passing Bills SB 235 and SB 236 and HB 775 and HB 776;

2) Continued stipends so we can continue to pay our staff the livable wages;

No one is willing to work for an industry where the pay is not worth the risk.

Our Industry has been and continues to be ignored. Leaders pull people with titles to talk about our industry on television, radio, and committee meetings — people who have no clue about our industry because they have never owned a child care center or been a provider. The child care providers who want their voices heard are denied the right to speak. Please turn your focus on providers who actually work within the child care industry.

To all of the families out there reading this article — we have room for your children, we want to care for and educate your children — but we must have some wiggle room within regulations and funding to staff qualified employee’s in our classrooms. Please reach out to your legislators and beg them to help the child care industry before we become extinct.

Melanie Barker is a child care provider writing on behalf of KACCO (The Kentucky Association for Child Care Owners & Their Providers).