LEXINGTON, Ky. (FOX 56) – A bipartisan group of state lawmakers held their first meeting of an Early Childhood Education Taskforce at the State Capitol on Tuesday.

The task force is looking at all areas of Kentucky’s early childhood education like head start, specialty programs like HANDS or First Steps, different models of Pre-K, and independent childcare businesses. They want to address things like childcare deserts and the economic challenges driving some staffing shortages.

“I fully anticipate that next session we will be filing legislation that will change the face of childcare and early childhood education within this Commonwealth,” Sen. Danny Carroll (R-Paducah) said.

For nearly two hours, lawmakers heard testimony from Kentucky Youth Advocates Policy and Research Director Dr. Sarah Vanover on some of the strengths in early childcare, such as head start

“Children get medical screenings, they get vision and dental screenings, if they don’t have a winter coat then we’ll make sure they get the child a winter coat,” Vanover said.

But in other parts of the field, Vanover acknowledged some harsh realities.

Vanover said the median salary for most independent childcare employees is $22,000 a year and often programs are one emergency expense away from shutting down.

“A lot of our members just don’t recognize the cost of childcare because maybe it’s been 20 or 30 years since they had kids in childcare,” Rep. Samara Heavrin (R-Leitchfield) said.

After Gov. Andy Beshear’s ask for universal pre-k funding in the state budget was snubbed by most republicans in favor of full-day Kindergarten, the task force is now looking at all options. Vanover said most counties only offer half-day public school pre-K.

“So is there an ability for school districts if they wanted to operate a full-day program would that be funded through the state,” Sen. Carroll asked.

“Typically what happens is that if they want to offer a full day which some states do, but the school district picks up that extra,” Vanover said.

Vanover added that scheduling is also harder on parents who often have to pay to enroll their kids into an additional childcare program because pre-K can’t cover the whole day, which isn’t always an option for parents of kids with disabilities who require special care. The task force is set to meet again on July 26.

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