A legislative hearing held today on the effectiveness of a law aimed at improving the quality and safety of Kansas day care centers turned into a discussion of how budget cuts could be undermining the law.
The director of a program charged with helping day care providers improve their services told members of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Health Policy Oversight that her budget had been cut by almost two-thirds, forcing her to lay off eight employees.
“Our budget will go from $10.3 million to about $4 million, effective Jan. 1,” said Leadell Ediger, executive director of the nonprofit Child Care Aware of Kansas.
Most of the reduction, she said, is driven by a recent Kansas Children’s Cabinet decision to spend more of the state’s tobacco settlement revenues on improving school reading scores and encouraging the development of public-private partnerships.
The change in priorities, Ediger said, resulted in the elimination of a collaborative $6 million grant that Child Care Aware used to underwrite several initiatives aimed at helping child care providers meet the requirements of 2010 law designed to improve day care safety and quality of care.
Lexie’s Law was named for Lexie Engelman, a 13-month-old toddler who died from injuries suffered at a home day care facility in Johnson County in 2004. It required the licensing and inspection of day care providers, large and small, and mandated the creation of online database to give parents and other caregivers access to information about providers.
Though the law passed in 2010, most of its provisions didn’t take effect until this year.
The change in funding priorities is in keeping with Gov. Sam Brownback’s campaign pledge to increase fourth-grade reading levels.
“There’s going to be a huge drop-off,” Ediger said, noting that the number of in-person training sessions for child care workers will be slashed from more than 1,000 per year to about 40.
The quality improvement and safety training – which providers must complete to be licensed – is also available online. But, Ediger said, the reduction in funding for her program will mean that fewer providers will have a choice between classroom and online training.
Also, she said, an $800,000 program that encouraged day care providers to create additional slots for infants and toddlers “is completely gone.”
Despite the budget cuts, Ediger and Rachel Berroth, director of the Bureau of Family Health within the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, assured the committee that Lexie’s Law was being enforced and that quality of care and safety had been significantly improved at Kansas day care facilities.
Several parents and day care providers submitted written testimony in support of Lexie's Law. No one spoke against the law.
But some committee members were skeptical.
“I hear you saying, ‘We’re doing the best we can’ – and I know you are,” said Sen. Roger Reitz, R-Manhattan. “But I don’t know that the best you can do is good enough.”
Reitz, a physician, lost his seat in the August primary election by Republican challenger Bob Reader, who was later defeated by Tom Hawk, a Democrat.
But Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, who won his re-election bid, also expressed concern. He said most legislators were unaware of the spending cuts and how they would affect day care providers throughout the state.
He compared cuts to having a “beautiful Cadillac sitting in the driveway” with no money for gas.
Ward said it’s unrealistic for those who run programs like Child Care Aware to think they will be able to survive additional budget reductions that Gov. Sam Brownback may be forced to recommend to deal with a projected $700 million drop in state revenue due to income tax cuts signed into law last year.
The committee is expected to reconvene Thursday for a review of the ongoing implentation of KanCare, the Brownback adminstration's plan to move virtually all of the state’s 380,000 Medicaid enrollees into managed care plans run by private insurance companies, starting on Jan. 1.
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