31 May 2018 | Early Learning

Calling all Kansas kids’ advocates! What is your child care vision?

Amanda Gress
May 31, 2018

It’s an exciting time to build a bright future for every one of our state’s children. The Legislature wrapped up a 2018 session that included meaningful new investments in early childhood. Congress passed a historic increase in child care funding (including $19 million more in federal funds coming to Kansas). Now, children’s advocates can help shape the future of Kansas child care. Here’s how:

The federal government funds child care through the Child Care and Development Block Grant (or “CCDBG”). In 2014, Congress reauthorized (significantly overhauled) CCDBG to improve and expand high-quality child care. In the early care and education world, this was huge. The new CCDBG law prompted states to re-examine child care policies. In 2017 and 2018, Kansas passed laws requiring more comprehensive fingerprint-based background checks for child care providers (in addition to current name-based checks). We’ve also improved Kansas child care regulations, particularly those relating to training and professional development for child care providers.

States must regularly submit a plan for spending federal child care funds. In Kansas, the Department for Children and Families (DCF) administers this funding. DCF has released the draft plan and is seeking Kansans’ feedback. This is your chance to share your vision for our ideal Kansas child care system!

DCF will host a public hearing on Wednesday, June 6, from 10 a.m. to noon at the DCF Administration Building in Topeka. You can click here for information about how to participate in person or via teleconference. You can also submit comments via email (to [email protected]) or mail through June 11.

If you’re struggling to get started writing – don’t worry! Here are some questions to consider as you share your feedback:

  • What do you like about our current child care system? What do you see in our state’s draft plan that excites you?
  • What goals should Kansas work toward as it considers how best to spend child care funds?
  • What policy changes could strengthen child care in Kansas?

If the draft state plan seems overwhelming – again, don’t worry! We’re here to help navigate the process (you can email me at [email protected]). As KAC analyzes the draft plan, we’ve identified four themes that will shape our comments:

First, we’re encouraging Kansas to consider using some of the $19 million of new federal funding to subsidize the cost of fingerprint-based background checks for child care providers. These new checks are important. They’ll help reduce the likelihood of abuse and neglect of children in child care. They also come with a cost ($48 per check, plus any additional local fees). As a state, we’ve been asking our early learning professionals to step up in a big way to improve the health and safety of Kansas child care. Now we can support Kansas child care providers by stepping in to offset the cost of new requirements.

Second, Kansas should help more families afford the high cost of child care. In Kansas, the average annual cost of one infant’s care in a child care center is $11,911 – that’s nearly half of a Kansas single parent’s median income, or 15% of the median income for a married couple. Child care assistance is a program that helps families pay these costs. This means parents can work while their children’s brains are growing in safe child care settings. Increased federal funding gives us an exciting chance to make sure this essential program reaches working families and prepares Kansas kids for success in kindergarten and beyond. For example, our neighbors in Arkansas plan to use additional federal funds to serve 70% more children in their child care assistance program.

Kansas’ draft state plan proposes some solid steps (if you’re following along, this is Section 3, pages 42-64). The new federal CCDBG law requires 12-month eligibility for child care assistance. That means that once children become eligible for child care assistance, they should be able to receive it for a full year – even if their family’s income changes or their parent temporarily loses a job. This makes good sense: kids need stability and routine to thrive. We’d never even consider pulling a child out of a kindergarten class just because his or her parent got a raise. The draft state plan applies that same stability to child care assistance. So long as a Kansas family’s income remains below 85% of state median income (about $56,000 per year for a family of three), they won’t need to report changes or risk losing their child’s eligibility for their 12 months of eligibility. Kansas parents who lose a job – or who can’t control if their unpredictable work schedule dips below 28 hours per week – will have three months to find additional work and maintain child care assistance.

These are encouraging policies for Kansas families – and we can and should do even more to strengthen this program. Child care assistance reached fewer than 9,000 Kansas kids in April 2018. That’s just a fraction of the children whose families struggle to afford the high cost of child care. Kansas could change policies that deny assistance to parents unable to work 28 hours per week, make the program more flexible for parents who are students, and allow unemployed parents searching for work to qualify (after all, it’s challenging to start a new job if you don’t already have safe, stable child care arrangements).

Third, Kansas should increase rates paid to child care providers. Child care assistance is a set hourly rate families use to pay their child care providers. Setting these rates at the recommended level (75% of the market rate) means that children can access higher-quality early learning, and helps providers deliver quality care. Kansas made the smart and necessary choice to increase child care rates in 2016 (they’re in Section 4.3 of the draft state plan, on page 72). We still have work to do! For a Kansas infant in a child care center in the most populous region of the state, the child care assistance payment rate is $3.56 per hour – just 19% of the market rate for infant child care in that area. For an infant in home-based child care, the rate is $2.40 per hour, or 20% of the market rate. Similarly, the reimbursement rate for Kansas toddlers is less than 40% of market rate. You can view the child care rates for your county here, and encourage Kansas to consider increasing these rates to support providers and families.

Finally, Kansas should make sure we’re not leaving federal money on the table. In 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016, Kansas was one of just a handful of states that didn’t identify enough state “matching” funds to draw down the maximum possible federal funding. We could certainly use those federal funds to strengthen child care in Kansas, and the state should work to identify state investments that qualify as a state match.

All right, Team Kansas – Now It’s Your Turn!

Remember, every Kansas child care stakeholder should feel confident sharing your thoughts about how we build better child care in our state. The goal of this process is to get your input! Click here for directions. KAC is more than happy to help out if we can – and if you’d like to join the in-person public comment meeting on June 6, I’ll see you there.

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