Day care centers in Kentucky got welcome news Thursday that President Joe Biden’s administration is releasing $763 million to the state to address the child care crisis caused by COVID-19 and that the state is relaxing one of its emergency restrictions prompted by the virus.
“This is wonderful, much needed,” said Melanie Barker, who operates ABC Children’s Academy in Bowling Green, about the federal dollars. She has been vocal about the plight of day care centers during the pandemic.
Also, the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services released details Thursday about the relaxation of a COVID-19 regulation placed on day care centers. It will allow day care centers to combine or mix classrooms at the beginning and close of each work day, when fewer children are present.
Vice President Kamala Harris announced Thursday that $39 billion of the federal American Rescue Funds are going to states for child care.
The money will be provided through two funds. One will be $24 billion in child care stabilization funding for child care providers to reopen or stay open, provide safe and healthy learning environments, keep workers on payroll and provide mental health supports for educators and children. Another will be $15 billion in more flexible funding for states to make child care more affordable for more families, increase access to care for families receiving subsidies, increase compensation for early childhood workers and meet other care needs.
A breakdown showed that Kentucky will receive about $293 million from the stabilization funding and about $470 million from the other funding.
“These funds are a critical step to pave the way for a strong economic recovery and a more equitable future,” the White House said.
It said child care providers have faced decreasing revenues due to lower enrollment while also shouldering higher expenses for personal protective equipment, sanitation, additional staff and other needs to operate safely.
The White House said about one in four child care providers open at the start of the pandemic have closed. Kentucky has about 1,740 providers.
“Child care providers who have stayed open have gone to enormous lengths to do so: two in five providers report taking on debt for their programs using personal credit cards to pay for increased costs and three in five work in programs that have reduced expenses through layoffs, furloughs, or pay cuts,” the White House said.
The new state regulation allowing day care centers to mix classes of students at the beginning and end of each day will also financially benefit the industry.
“One teacher may come in at opening and cover the children from two to three different classrooms until enough children arrive and an additional teacher is needed,” said Susan Dunlap, a spokeswoman for the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services. “By breakfast time, all lead teachers are present and have set up their individual classrooms. The same process would happen in the afternoon when parents arrive to pick up their children. Once teachers have only a handful of children left, two classrooms may be combined, allowing one teacher to leave the facility.”
The regulation agreed to by the Beshear administration and lawmakers include requirements for contact tracing in the event of a possible exposure to COVID-19 that don’t require an entire child care facility to shut down, said Dunlap.
The new administrative regulation was worked out by Amy Cubbage, general counsel for Gov. Andy Beshear, and David Fleenor, general counsel for Kentucky Republican legislative leaders.
The agreement came after Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd earlier this month directed Cubbage and Fleenor to resolve any concerns related to the implementation of Senate Bill 148. The measure, approved by the legislature this year, primarily limits the state’s authority to reduce class sizes at child care centers in an emergency. Shepherd is handling a legal case involving Beshear’s COVID-19 restrictions.
On March 15, Beshear said licensed child care facilities in the state could return to pre-pandemic group sizes but classrooms must still stay in groups and not mix groups of children throughout the day.