connecticut childcare

Face the Facts: More Funding Could be on the Way for Child Care Providers

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Improving access to quality child care is front and center in the state legislature.

There are currently three bills in the state Senate, another in the House, all trying to address it. But it seems there could be somewhat of a catch to delay when it comes to that legislation.

NBC Connecticut's Mike Hydeck spoke with Commissioner of Early Childhood Beth Bye about it.

Mike Hydeck: "So the governor's Communication Director recently said in an interview waiting to see what kind of money could be coming in from the federal government is important to learn before they commit to the state proposals we have on the table. Is that your take as well?"

Beth Bye: "You know, we are waiting for more indications from D.C. about what will be in that package. And so anything in the legislative package we'll be evaluating. I'm taking that into account."

Mike Hydeck: "So moving forward, there is definitely bipartisan support for doing something about child care, which is nice to hear and see. But can legislation be written now to give state lawmakers some flexibility, basically go ahead with one of the state or all the state proposals now. And then later on, if federal money comes in, the balance sheet gets adjusted. Is that possible?"

Beth Bye: "Well, I don't think that's how it would happen, I think we've got to look at what are the urgent needs that maybe won't be covered by federal legislation, if and when that passes? Because there are some urgent needs and I think the legislature and the Office of Early Childhood are still leveraging those federal American Rescue Plan dollars in the short term. If you look at what came out with appropriations, and in what we've been doing at the Office of Early Childhood, because programs are really hurting."

Face the Facts

Face the Facts with NBC Connecticut goes beyond the headlines, asking newsmakers the tough questions, giving an in-depth analysis of the big stories.

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Mike Hydeck: "Among the urgent needs that have been reported - point blank staff. One, the wage they get paid doesn't keep them around. A lot of people are quitting and there are daycare centers with empty classrooms all over the state. What's on the table to try to deal with that?"

Beth Bye: "Yeah, it's a great question, it is the biggest problem. I was talking to the governor about this earlier in the week. You know, across some of the lower wage jobs in our country, and in our state, there is a big challenge with workforce. And sadly, early childhood education has been among the lowest paid professions in our state, despite their major impact on children's brains and on the quality of early childhood settings, which we know matter for both getting kids ready for school and for life. So the low wage workers, if you're making $16 in an early childhood setting, you may love your work, it's very hard work, but if you can make $20 an hour at Target, when you have a family, you have to consider that. So there is a big labor shortage. And we are addressing it with some pilot apprentice programs that we hope to be funding in the very near future, to try to get more people on the track of early childhood. We've also invested about $4 million in our community colleges and private colleges that have early childhood lab schools to try to bring more students into the field for the longer run. So we're able to use those American Rescue Plan Dollars that way."

Mike Hydeck: "Is there a line item in the budget that needs to be added? I know this can be a complex funding situation because some of these are private companies and they get public money to help keep them afloat and pay their staff. Can there be a state commitment instead of hoping to get federal dollars come in with rescue plan money?"

Beth Bye: "It is really complicated, I think that's what people need to understand. Unlike public schools, about three quarters of childcare programs are private businesses, some of them for profit, and some of them profitable. But the majority of programs across the state right now are struggling. And we do have about 25% of programs that do have state-funded components. That is, we may fund spaces in a program or we may fund a whole program with school readiness or child daycare funding. And so we've been focused obviously on the programs that we oversee and fund and helping them stay afloat with some state funds and some federal funds."

Mike Hydeck: "According to some estimates, it costs upwards of $20,000 a year to put an infant or a toddler in daycare here in Connecticut. That's the most among the most expensive in the country. What can we do to actually control costs on the other side of the balance sheet? Is there something we can do there?"

Beth Bye: "I think you've really hit on the biggest problem in our child care ecosystem which is the infant toddlers because the preschool, the older children in child care actually subsidize infants and toddlers. So we need to look toward getting to pay the full cost of high quality care for infants and toddlers. And so there are some strategies. Some are leveraging federal dollars to get to pay the full costs. Another strategy is family child care, which is a great spot for families to have their children enrolled in family child care homes when they're infants and toddlers. We've been investing in family child care support. We've also put forward a proposal that would in some way ease the regulations. Right now, family child care homes can only take two children, two infants and toddlers and up to six children for the majority of the day. But we've proposed to allow family child care homes to take six infants and toddlers if they add a second staff person, and that's really where the demand is. And so they could take up to nine children total and six infants and toddlers if they had a second staff person, so that could help their bottom line and also increase capacity for infants and toddlers."

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