Jefferson County has nearly 700 childcare programs in operation, but officials say program quality varies widely.
Early childhood education has become an important extension of the public education conversation, but state and federal funding cuts have recently left more Kentucky families without crucial subsidies to send their children to childcare.
WFPL hosted a news special on the state of early childhood education in Jefferson County as part of The Next Louisville education project.
Karen Napier, director of education initiatives for Metro United Way:
The eligibility [for child care assistance in Kentucky] will be the lowest in the nation this July. A single parent with a child cannot make more than $14,000 a year. If the cost of child care for an infant is $7,000 a year, how can parents possibly budget? What we fear is that children will be placed in situations that are less than ideal, if not harmful, for [their parent] to maintain her job.
Julie Leezer, director at Cardinal Hill Rehab Center for Louisville Easter Seals and chair of the Community Early Childhood Council for Jefferson County, says the Kentucky’s voluntary quality rating improvement system for childcare facilities (STARS for KIDS NOW) is costly to use.
For our center to have moved up to a three star center, we would have had to drop our teacher to child ratio and that would have cost our center about $57,000 in revenue, which is significant. To move to a four star rating, that was about $128,000, which would have been a hit on our revenue. We firmly believe in quality and we follow as many quality indicators as possible…[but] there is a cost to quality, and sometimes it’s difficult to bear that when you’re trying to pay early care professionals a decent wage, offer them some benefits and things like that.
Janet Masterson, assistant director at Community Coordinated Child Care (4-C), on pay and requirements for professionals working in early childhood education:
In the private child care arena, it’s typically minimum wage or slightly above. Education…state licensing requires that you have at least 15 hours of early childhood training each year, that you be 18 years old, and that you have a high school diploma. So we have a long way to go as far as the requirements and the standards that are set in place for people who work with young children.
Napier says the investment in early childhood care should happen now:
I’d say this to our legislators: Wake up. It’s time to wake up. It’s time to do the right thing. We can no longer be saying ‘oh, it’s too expensive.’ We’ve got to invest in this age group. We’ve got to start laying the groundwork and the foundation for the success of all our people here in kentucky.