UPDATE: The following is the response WFPL received from Gov. Steve Beshear:
“Yes, we support the President’s efforts to improve access and availability of early childhood education. Experts say that every dollar spent on preschool programs carries a return on investment that ranges from $2 to $17.
The PEW Center on the States found that the positive effect of high-quality preschool “generates significant savings because children need fewer higher-priced interventions such as special education and grade retention.”
As Governor, I will continue to do everything I can to make sure all Kentucky children get access to the quality education they need.”
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan will be in Louisville Thursday morning to meet with local and state officials and to promote President Barack Obama’s early childhood education initiatives.
Duncan’s appearance at the St. Benedict Center for Early Childhood Education will be his second in Louisville in the past two years. (The first visit was to The Academy at Shawnee where he discussed the waiver process for the No Child Left Behind Act.)
Duncan will be joined by Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, Jefferson County Public Schools Superintendent Donna Hargens and state officials to discuss the importance of early childhood programming. Kentucky was recently forced to cut the number of people eligible for a subsidy program for childcare and the federal sequester cuts will affect early childhood programs in public schools nationwide.
In his 2014 budget proposal earlier this year, President Obama announced his $75 billion plan to help fund access to preschool programs for four-year-olds. This would give states the incentive to support full-day kindergarten programs for more students, and the White House estimates it would mean 5,000 more Kentucky children would be served in the first year.
Obama’s proposal—which would be paid for by increasing cigarette tax and still needs approval by Congress—would also increase funding for the Early Head Start Child Care Partnership and the Home Visiting Program.
But states can choose whether to participate in the incentive-based program and its unclear if Kentucky is willing or able to do so. Attempts to get comments from Gov. Steve Beshear’s office were unsuccessful; we’ll update when we hear back.
Kentucky’s Department for Community Based Services announced a shortfall of $86.6 million in fiscal year 2014, and the Child Care Assistance Program—which offers parents subsidies so they can work and go to school—will serve fewer families.
The state already froze all new applications in April and this has affected some childcare centers like the St. Benedict Center for Early Childhood Education, where Duncan will visit, says executive director Alissa Mwenelupembe.
“We already have some families that have lost their childcare subsidies. We probably will not be as affected as some other centers,” she says, adding that the families attending her facility are in a low enough income bracket to continue receiving funds.
Some families have had to increase their portion of payment, she says.
Further, the state is reducing CCAP eligibility on July 1 from 150 percent of the poverty level to 100 percent.
While Mwenelupembe says while she’s thankful for Obama’s proposal, she recognizes that the 10-year funding plan will need to find some way to be sustained.
“I think it’s a good starting point,” she says. “While the federal government might be putting forth some money for 10 years, those of us that are on the ground doing this work have got to get out and speak with business owners and corporations and people that have the money and the power that can help to realize that this is important.”
Mwenelupembe points to partnerships like the one financed by Exxon Mobile in Houston, which helps pay for professional development, mentoring and other resources to improve childcare quality.
This is what Louisville and Metro United Way are trying to do with its Excellence Academy program, which the St. Benedict Center and four other facilities are part of. The idea is to offer quality programming that’s based on several indicators like smaller teacher-to-child ratios and an educated staff, but it costs more to provide this, says Mwenelupembe.
“With that, those state subsidies are so important so children in our area can come and get a high quality experience at a price they can afford instead of going to another center down the street that doesn’t offer the quality and is more of a babysitting service.”
Mwenelupembe says within her center’s zip code there are 100 childcare centers.
But few of those centers and all childcare centers across the state choose to participate in the state STARS rating system, making it harder to determine quality programs.
Further, the public education system still has to deal with federal sequester cuts. The Kentucky Department of Education receives around $500 million from the federal government. KDE officials expect the federal sequester cuts will total around $32 million, with districts with high low-income populations like JCPS having higher percentage of cuts to Title 1 funding.