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September 27, 2022 9:50am

Kentucky legislators learn about mixed delivery preschool and early child care

In testimony to the Early Childhood Task Force last week, Kentucky legislators heard from statewide organizations focused on expanding access to early child care and preschool through a mixed delivery model emphasizing partnerships between existing public and private options. Representatives from the Pritchard Committee for Academic Excellence and Kentucky Youth Advocates presented along with highlights from early childhood programs in Fayette County and Owensboro.

The Early Childhood Education Taskforce was created during the 2022 legislative session and is chaired by Representative Samara Heavrin (R-Leitchfield) and Senator Danny Carroll (R-Benton). The group of bi-partisan legislators is tasked with reviewing early childhood caregiving and education structures in Kentucky.

Improving access to child care and early childhood education has been a key legislative priority for the Greater Louisville business community. Addressing the lack of availability and accessibility in these areas will help working families participate in the workforce and position communities for long-term workforce growth with higher education and career readiness levels. The creation of the Early Childhood Task Force is building on the momentum during the 2022 session which saw record funding for early childcare education and the creation of the Employee Child Care Assistance Program, both of which were top priorities for GLI in the most recent session.

What is mixed-delivery preschool model?

Mixed-delivery preschool models utilize existing public and private programs to expand access to early learning services and blend funding from multiple funding streams. Kentucky’s early childhood ecosystem is already made up of a mix of public-school districts, Head Start, and private child care centers and family child care homes. Utilizing the existing resources in place and expanding access to early childhood education ensures that a greater share of Kentucky’s children will enter kindergarten more prepared and positioned for better student outcomes and social interactions.

Mixed-delivery models allow parents to choose among different types of programs and select one that best fits their needs, whether considering a child’s developmental needs and learning style to the hours of care needed for the working parent.

Relying solely on an expansion of the public pre-school system would have detrimental effects on private facilities, as the 3- and 4-year-old rooms make the entire private child care model from 6 weeks to 4 years profitable because of the increase in child to teacher rations. Child care for younger children remains a critical issue in Kentucky’s workforce shortage.

Kentucky ranks low in preschool enrollment and kindergarten readiness

Benjamin Gies, Directory of Earl Childhood Policy and Practice for the Prichard Committee, described Kentucky’s low rankings regarding preschool enrollment and kindergarten-readiness:

  • Kentucky ranks 41st in the nation in the number of three- and four-year-olds enrolled in preschool
  • In 2020, only 53% of Kentucky public school kindergartners were identified as kindergarten ready

Gies also noted that while public preschool services provide opportunities for approximately 50% of young children in Kentucky, only 94 of Kentucky’s 525 public preschool programs provide full day services. The publicly provided half-day options severely limit access for working parents dependent on full working day care for their children

Recent research from the Council for a Strong America indicates that this lack of available child care accounts for $573 million in lost earnings, business productivity, and tax revenue in Kentucky.

Considerations for mixed-delivery models

Dr. Sarah Vanover with Kentucky Youth Advocates explained how the expansion of mixed-delivery models and public partnerships into private centers comes with special considerations that must be addressed. Blending these programs can be very beneficial but also lead to regulatory difficulties as private daycares have less stringent regulations than federally funded programs like Head Start and Early Start.

Another consideration is staff wages and lack of pay equity across the mixed-delivery models. Public preschool teachers require additional degrees and certifications that are not required for private child care educators, leading to significantly higher wages for public school preschool teachers compared to private school or Head Start. Dr. Vanover emphasized the need for pay equity across delivery models as a means to address the workforce issue in child care and early childhood education.