Legislative Session Child Care Policy Update
At TFC, we firmly believe that our work represents the most significant untapped potential for our community. We also recognize advocacy as one of the most powerful tools for enhancing our child care sector, ensuring that all children have access to high-quality early care and education, and that teachers receive fair compensation for their invaluable work.
Our advocacy efforts focus on amplifying the voices of providers and parents, as well as leveraging our experiences and expertise to inform the decision-makers who shape our policies. While there is still a lot of work ahead, we are thrilled by the important conversations that were initiated and the progress that was achieved. Notably, child care remains a bipartisan issue and a priority in both Kansas and Missouri.
Kansas Legislative Session Child Care Policy Update
Passed: Child Support Compliance for Child Care Subsidy
One of the first child care-related bills we followed in Kansas was introduced to remove non-cooperation with child support as a disqualification for child care assistance — bringing Kansas into compliance with federal regulations (state child care subsidy programs are primarily funded by the federal Child Care and Development Fund). We have seen first-hand how this requirement prevents single mothers and young children from receiving the support they need, and diminishes the true purpose of the child care subsidy program.
The original bill completely removed child support from consideration. After several alterations, the law will require families to work with Child Support Services, but if they qualify for benefits while child support cooperation is being determined they cannot be kicked out of the program for 12 months.
No one wins when we require child support compliance, and as our mental health professionals can attest, these situations are often complex and frequently involve domestic violence. We need the legislature to recognize that the benefit of providing high-quality care far outweighs the value of penalizing parents with past due child support.
Vetoed: Child Care Deregulation
At a time when both the supply and demand sides of the child care sector are facing significant challenges, we can appreciate that legislators are exploring ways to improve access. However, deregulation is not a reasonable solution.
The bill that ultimately became Senate Substitute for HB 2344 aimed to improve capacity by increasing child-teacher ratios, raising licensed capacities and easing caregiver qualifications. Further, it would have cemented these changes in statute, limiting the ability of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to adapt and evolve to changing dynamics in the child care system.
This bill was passed by both chambers, but thankfully it was vetoed by the governor and there were not enough votes for an override. We believe the changes were well intentioned and are glad that so many are focused on the child care crisis, but we can’t sacrifice quality for quantity.
Missouri Legislative Session Child Care Policy Update
When Gov. Parson released his budget proposal in January, he recommended several investments in early care and education. Two of those recommendations made it across the line — pre-k expansion and a subsidy reimbursement rate increase. The third item, a collection of child care related tax credits, did not pass.
Passed: Pre-K Expansion
Any Missouri child that will go to Kindergarten the next year and qualifies for free and reduced lunch will now have access to free preschool. In the governor’s budget announcement he stated, “50 percent of all our families with pre-k students will be able to enroll their children in expanded programs through their local school district or charter school at no cost.”
The new funding will support a mixed-delivery system. About $56 million is earmarked for school districts, while roughly $26 million will be set aside for community-based child care providers. We will do our best to keep you informed as we learn more, and also encourage you to follow our friends at Kids Win Missouri.
Passed: Increasing Child Care Subsidy Reimbursement Rates
Currently, Missouri’s subsidy reimbursement rate is at the 25th percentile for infants, 22nd percentile for preschoolers and 21st percentile for school-aged children relative to the market rate. That means that families who depend on the child care subsidy program to access the care they need have very few options. Further, these low reimbursement rates depress the market rate and create instability in the sector. Providers who accept these rates often struggle to recruit and retain teachers. Others choose not to accept families who rely on subsidy, because it does not provide adequate funding.
The approved budget will raise rates to the 58th percentile across the board. This is a good start, but our goal is to convince both states to move to a rate setting model that covers that actual cost of care rather than the market rate.
Passed: Transitional Child Care Benefits
Transitional benefits had a lot of discussion during the session. A standalone bill stalled, but a version of the language was eventually added to a healthcare bill that was passed on the final day of the session.
The new law, which unfortunately was not funded, would have expanded access to individuals whose incomes are between 150% and 200% of the federal poverty level (FPL) on a sliding fee scale. Currently, families must qualify for full benefits (150% of FPL or $56,000 for a family of 4) to receive a subsidy. Then, they can then continue to receive subsidy at reduced rates as their income grows (to 215% of the FPL).
Despite the funding for transitional benefits being excluded from the budget, the new law included a few other changes that will go into effect next year. There are adjustments to the way reimbursements are determined for families who are currently using the program. The law also mandates a simple shared enrollment form for SNAP, TANF and child care subsidy. While we will continue to advocate for the necessary funding and further improvements to make child care more accessible for working families, this is a move in the right direction.
Beyond the 2023 Legislative Session
COVID relief funding provided almost $1 billion in funding in Missouri and about $500 million in Kansas. These funds continue to prop up many struggling programs in our community. As we approach the end of these funds, there is urgency to secure the long-term investment the sector needs.
At the federal level, we will continue to advocate for increased funding for the Child Care and Development Block Grant, which funds approximately 90 percent of child care subsidies in Kansas and Missouri. With increased funding, states will be able to expand access ( roughly 90 percent of families who are eligible for subsidy can’t access it because of insufficient funding) and increase reimbursement rates to cover the true cost of providing care.
This isn’t just an issue for families. There are serious economic costs associated with deficiencies in our child care system. A recent study from the U.S. Chamber and the Missouri Chamber of Commerce found that Missouri misses an estimated $1.35 billion annually, due to child care issues. We will continue to build partnerships with the business community to advocate for policy change and to invest in care for their workers.
We saw attempts at deregulation in both Kansas and Missouri this session. Sacrificing quality for quantity fails to value this work for what it is. At the most basic level, this work allows people to go to work, we know it has so much more to offer. We will continue to advocate for quality, because that is what children need, and that is how we will realize the full potential of our investments.
Ahead of the next legislative session, we will work to build relationships and connect stakeholders with the people and resources they need to make informed decisions. We plan to focus on improving our communication, making it easier for providers to participate in advocacy.
We’ve valued education as a public good for a very long time. With all we know about the first five years, we need to view early care and education in the same manner.
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