Child care centers taking part in Kentucky’s subsidy program for low-income families will soon get a higher reimbursement rate, but advocates say more needs to be done to improve the quality of centers.

Outgoing Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear announced late last week he would dedicate a federal fund surplus of $15 million to the Child Care Assistance Program, which offers subsidies for low-income parents who work. The change takes effect Jan. 1.

Janet Masterson, executive director of  Louisville-based Community Coordinated Child Care, said the funding would help the center spend more on providing better quality care. She said it would give centers the ability to invest in staff and improve their staff-child ratio.

“It allows for more one-on-one activity and individualized attention to children that all parents want,” she said.

Masterson also said the help couldn’t come soon enough. Since 2006, child care centers that accepted CCAP funding have received the same reimbursement rate.

“It helps families,” she said. “It will help communities and most definitely the children that are involved.”

Other advocates have said this is only a small improvement for a big problem. Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates, said that while the slightly higher reimbursement rate helps, centers are still vastly underpaid for providing child care to working families who need help.

“Is this more positive than not doing anything? Absolutely,” he said. “But we have to be realistic. If I am a child care center getting five bucks more a week — because that’s really what this equates to — that’s not going to change the challenges and crises of financing that we currently face.”

The funding of CCAP has been a focus of the state’s youth advocates in recent years. In January 2013, the Beshear administration reluctantly slashed eligibility for the program because of a budget shortfall.

The number of children participating in CCAP dropped 57 percent from when the cuts were enacted until the program’s partial restoration in August 2014, according to the state Department for Community Based Services.

That month, CCAP covered 17,261 children.

Last month, CCAP covered 23,815 children.

In lobbying state lawmakers to boost CCAP funding, youth advocates argued that low-income families would quit working for lack of child care. They also said child care centers would close from a loss of business.

In the fiscal quarter when the cuts were enacted, Kentucky had 2,831 child care centers. That had dropped to 2,433 by the last quarter of this year, according to the Department for Community Based Services.

Despite the partial restoration of CCAP funding last year, the program still covers far fewer children than it did just a couple years ago.

Brooks said the state should both increase the number of families eligible for CCAP and increase reimbursement rates to the centers that participate.

The newly announced reimbursement rate means child care centers would receive an extra dollar per child every day. There is also incentive pay for centers receiving high quality ratings. High-performing child care centers can get up to $2 more per child.

“If they had really gone ahead and said, ‘Well, let’s spend all the $15 million as a base to get our rate for the state of Kentucky where it needs to be,’ then that would have been a really bold statement,” said Steve Magre of Child Care Advocates of Kentucky. “But offering a dollar a day for the 24,000 children that are in the program currently, it just isn’t going to have any impact.”

In states neighboring Kentucky, such as Indiana and Ohio, child care centers get at least $50 more a week per child compared to Kentucky’s rate, said Magre, who until recently was a Louisville Metro Council member.

“Child care centers cannot stay in business with the amount of money that is calculated now as the reimbursement rates,” Magre said.

Brooks said the state should seriously address the funding issue because it affects the state’s entire economy.

“Child cares are really significant small businesses in urban and rural areas,” he said. “Uniquely, child care seems to be an industry that is important in all 120 counties.”