Friday, May 13, 2016

Forward Progress for Early Childhood

| by Brigitte Blom Ramsey, Executive Director |

The 2016 session of the Kentucky General Assembly proved to be an unexpected win for progress and innovation in early childhood.

Given the state’s significant state fiscal challenges, the session began with little hope for increasing the state’s investment in our youngest learners, and with a lot of questions about the continued support for the Commonwealth’s commitment to quality early childhood.

Nonetheless, early childhood advocates proposed key measures to help maintain the state’s momentum:

  • Align public preschool eligibility and child care assistance eligibility to the same Federal poverty level (FPL) and incrementally increase eligibility for both programs to 200% of FPL. Current preschool eligibility is 160% of FPL 
  • Current child care assistance eligibility is 150% of the 2011 FPL 
  • Incentivize collaboration between public preschool and private child care to increase participation in preschool and serve children in environments that best suit their needs.

In the end, the final budget approved by the Governor and General Assembly included significant progress – maintaining and increasing the state’s investment while also providing for innovations to build capacity and strengthen the system:

  • Increased child care assistance eligibility to 160% of current FPL, bringing it into alignment with the eligibility level for public preschool 
  • Maintained the full $90 million for preschool and maintained eligibility at 160% of FPL 
  • From the $90 million for preschool, carved out a set aside of $7.5 million in each year of the biennium to establish an incentive grant for local collaborations between school districts and private child care providers to increase participation in preschool. Statewide, enrollment has dropped significantly since 2010.

Source: Kentucky Department of Education Staff Note, June 2015

We are thrilled to see the incentive grant program for early childhood partnerships in the budget. This is a testament to the state’s commitment to innovation and partnership in early childhood. It will be important for Kentucky to make the most of this unique opportunity by building evidence of success by serving more young learners, increasing school readiness, and improving efficiency of programs.

The budget language calls on the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) to administer the incentive grant program. It requires KDE to work with the Kentucky Board of Education, Early Childhood Advisory Council, Cabinet for Health and Family Services, and Child Care Advisory Council to design the program requirements. The next few months will be a pivotal time for these state agencies and advisory groups, as well as for school districts and child care providers to identify ways that they can partner to better serve young learners in full-day programs.

Why is it so important for school districts and child care providers to work together?

  • Increasing access to quality preschool programs helps increase kindergarten readiness and early success in school.
  • Public preschool should be increased in a way that does not crowd out private child care.
  • Public-private partnerships bring diversity into the system that helps build the state’s capacity to serve more children with high-quality services that meet families’ needs.
  • Partnerships between the public and private sectors encourage efficient and effective use of resources.

The idea of partnerships is not new in Kentucky.

  • In April 2015, in partnership with Metro United Way, United Way of Greater Cincinnati, Kentucky Youth Advocates Blueprint for Kentucky’s Children, the Kentucky Head Start Association, the Kentucky Department of Education, the Governor’s Office of Early Childhood, and the Cabinet for Health and Family Services Stars for Kids Now, we released a brief that detailed the benefits of partnerships and examples of models underway now in Kentucky.
  • In January 2016, the Early Childhood Study Group report recommended partnerships as a way to strengthen school readiness and ensure a stronger system for children from birth through third grade.

Please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions, comments, or ideas about effective partnerships between school districts and child care providers. We will continue to keep you informed as we learn more about this unique opportunity for Kentucky’s young learners.

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