LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Kentucky's childcare system is fragile.
That's according to new survey data released Thursday, showing more than 70% of responding childcare providers would be forced to raise tuition if American Rescue Funds run out.
The Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence along with Kentucky Youth Advocates, Metro United Way and others conducted the survey.
Mandy Simpson, chief policy officer with Metro United Way, said even before the pandemic, the state saw concerning data; Kentucky lost more than 45% of its childcare sector.
The commonwealth was at risk of losing 20% more in 2020, but federal relief curved that downfall. Now, if the money runs out, Simpson says Kentucky will see much more loss.
“If we do not take action to avoid it, we will see what felt like a fairly apocalyptic outcome descend upon us and Kentucky,” Simpson said.
Simpson said she’s optimistic though, because lawmakers are paying attention.
Thursday, childcare leaders held a press conference in Frankfort where they discussed the survey results. Lawmakers met in committee to discuss the topic as well.
“It's always difficult to confront very challenging circumstances,” Simpson said. “We are thankful to stand by bold leaders who are willing to really take on those challenges.”
According to the survey, 58% of providers are not fully staffed. If they were, more than 20% said they could serve more than 50 additional kids.
“We are talking about hundreds of childcare seats that thousands of Kentucky's families need,” Simpson said.
More than 20% of survey respondents said they would permanently close their child care program when federal dollars run out. About 30% would lay off staff, and nearly 40% would cut staff wages.
“Unfathomable, when we are talking about and median annual income of $22,600 a year,” Simpson said. “We're going to have a mass exodus of even the childcare workers who have hung on this long.”
Childcare leaders proposed ways to dig Kentucky out of the hole, including increasing eligibility for Kentucky's childcare assistance program, and placing free public preschool classes in private-care centers that are already established.
“Our children get the start that they need, and our parents have the opportunities to pursue their dreams, now,” Simpson said.
According to the survey, 94 out of Kentucky’s 120 counties responded. Simpson said she fears the data could be even worse if all participated.