Republican senator will ask Kentucky lawmakers to put $300 million into strengthening child care

Published 8:47 am Tuesday, February 13, 2024

By Sarah Ladd

Kentucky Lantern

Republican state Sen. Danny Carroll has announced his anticipated child care legislation will come with a $300 million price tag.

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The ambitious proposal, called the Horizons Act, would have Kentucky spend far more than the $52 million approved by the House for the child care sector and the $141 million that Democrat Gov. Andy Beshear proposed. Child care advocates have said both proposals fall short of what is needed with the end of pandemic-era federal aid that has been sustaining child care in Kentucky.

The Horizons Act would spend $150 million per year of the two-year budget cycle to “help the industry sustain operations and create more opportunities for working Kentucky families and children,” says a media advisory from the Senate Majority Caucus. It will address “Kentucky’s early childhood education crisis, particularly as federal pandemic-era funding dries up.”

The advisory says the bill will focus on early childhood education (ECE) opportunities and providers.

“The name of the bill reflects Carroll’s commitment to creating a brighter future for Kentucky’s children, working families, and business sector (large and small) through an intense focus on quality ECE, entrepreneurship opportunities, provider growth, and innovation in the delivery of ECE services, all to ensure a stable foundation for families across the socioeconomic spectrum,” the caucus said.

Carroll is a West Kentucky Republican who serves as president and CEO of Easter Seals West Kentucky, whose programs include a child care center. Last week he told the Lantern that the House budget allocation for child care was “insufficient” to address the challenges facing the child care industry this year and his proposed solution to the crisis would be a “big swing.”

“We need to take the opportunity that we have to change the way we look at early childhood education,” he said on Feb. 7.

He added: “The focus is going to be getting rid of the terms ‘child care,’ ‘day care,’ and call it what it is: early childhood education.” His bill, he told the Lantern last week, will address many topics including child abuse and neglect, education and workforce.

The Lantern previously reported that Kentucky could lose more than a fifth of its child care providers if the state doesn’t help. And even with the state help that is proposed in the House budget, experts say about 16,000 kids could lose access to child care in 2024.

Beshear asked lawmakers for an additional $68 million for Child Care Assistance Program in the first year of the budget and $73 million in the second year. Beshear’s proposal also includes a pitch to spend $172 million a year to begin funding universal preschool for Kentucky 4-year-olds, though child care advocates worried that would cannibalize child care and exacerbate the problems the industry faces.

“We’ve seen the devastation that happens in this state, when child care shuts down,” Carroll said on Feb. 7. “And we’ve got to make sure that never happens again.”

Carroll is expected to file his Horizons Act on Tuesday. The media advisory says he will talk about the legislation and early childhood issues at a press conference along with Sarah Vanover of Kentucky Youth Advocates, Charles Aull of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, Jennifer Washburn, owner and operator of an early childhood education (ECE) center, and others.