Poor working families of some 120 infants and toddlers in the Kansas City area are about to find out they’re losing their state-funded child care.
One of the last-moment deals in the Missouri legislature’s budget battle begins to hurt this week.
People in area agencies that distribute the state’s Early Head Start funds essentially will be deciding in the next few days who will keep their spots in the free programs and who won’t beginning July 1.
“Talk about being Solomon,” said Jim Caccamo, the director of early learning at the Mid-America Regional Council. “Which kids do you pick out? (The providers) will have criteria, but, still, how’d you like to be the one to tell that family?”
Statewide, state funding for Early Head Start programs was cut nearly in half, from $5.67 million to $2.65 million. In the Kansas City area, the funding will fall from $1.8 million to $865,000, Caccamo said.
Missouri’s Department of Social Services on Thursday distributed new contracts for providers under the reduced funding that cut services from the Family Conservancy and the Independence School District.
The Family Conservancy’s Early Head Start programs losing funds include Operation Breakthrough and the early childhood program at St. Mark Union Church in Kansas City, plus several home-based providers.
They will be losing 119 of 222 “slots,” pushing many low-income families into difficult situations, said Dean Olson, vice president for programming at the Family Conservancy.
“Politics is all over this,” Olson said. “I know they (legislators) have difficult decisions to make, but there are going to be a lot of unintended consequences.”
Early childhood programming, though underfunded, had escaped the carousel of state cuts in recent years. But Jeremy LaFaver, a lobbyist for early childhood interests, said they couldn’t escape lawmakers’ last-week machinations in 2012.
Governor Jay Nixon and the House of Representatives had offered a budget that avoided many of the cuts. It relied on an amnesty program for delinquent taxpayers that would have generated an estimated $70 million in revenue, said Rep. Ryan Silvey, a Kansas City, North, Republican. But the Senate rejected the tax amnesty plan and submitted a budget with sharper cuts.
Silvey chaired a joint conference committee that hammered out a compromise budget between the House and Senate on the Wednesday before the session ended May 18. He favored the tax amnesty plan. Without it, he said, the committee was forced into hard decisions, including the cuts to Early Head Start.
“It was a matter of trying to find priorities for both of us,” he said. “It was important to me we did the best that we could.”
The cuts come as efforts throughout the nation, including Kansas City’s Turn the Page KC early reading program, emphasize the importance of helping children. In particular, they focus on efforts to prepare disadvantaged children to start their school years ready to learn.
“This is the most formative years for these kids,” said Sister Berta Sailer, a co-founder of Operation Breakthrough. “This allows women who have been on welfare to get a job and have their kids taken care of. There is a huge need for this.”
Olson fears that a poor family that abruptly has to figure out how to pay for child care will look to unregulated providers.
Missouri law allows anyone to provide care in their home, without being licensed, for up to four children — in addition to any children related to the provider.
“A major concern with parents who lose care is where are they going to go?” Olson said. “In unregulated care there are no inspections, no training.”