Kansas child care shortage won’t be solved by jeopardizing kids’ safety
Kansas faces a child care crisis, writes Daniel Klaassen of Kansas Action for Children. A bill passed by the Legislature won't do much to fix it. (Getty Images)
This session, lawmakers in Topeka decided to take on the child care crisis and proposed a series of sweeping changes to our child care system. Those of us in the early childhood field truly appreciate the attention and interest in the topic.
However, it would be better for everyone involved if they chose to help by addressing core issues instead of putting the safety of kids and providers at risk.
Legislators passed House Bill 2344 on the last day of the regular legislative session. I will note that it passed the Senate, in which the bill had a hearing, by a narrow 21-17 margin There was a hastily scheduled “informational briefing” in the House Health and Human Services Committee, at which only the bill’s proponents were invited to speak.
There was never a genuine bill hearing that would have allowed for testimony from opponents. There was never even a full debate by the House of Representatives before the bill passed, 77-46.
This is how our current crop of legislative leaders have decided to overhaul the Kansas early childhood system. A gut-and-go from the Senate Commerce Committee, a little pressure from leadership and voila. Research and expert testimony were ignored, while kids’ safety was pushed aside for prioritization of the economy.
A gut-and-go from the Senate Commerce Committee, a little pressure from leadership and voila. Research and expert testimony were ignored, while kids’ safety was pushed aside for prioritization of the economy.
– Daniel Klaassen
Even in its final, pared-down version, HB 2344 reduces the space required for each child and training requirements for staff. It also increases the number of children in these now-smaller spaces with professionals who have received less training and prohibits any city or county from passing their own ordinances to regulate child care locally.
Setting aside the undemocratic process, the policy effects of this bill will do real damage to real kids.
There’s a reason we have ratios set at 3:1 infants per adult. There’s a reason why we have Lexie’s Law, passed more than a decade ago in response to a child’s death that could have been prevented. There are reasons why local communities across Kansas have chosen to implement their own child care policies.
Kansas has a massive child care shortage, and worse, the system is caught in an old-fashioned Catch-22. It’s incredibly expensive for parents, but those high rates don’t translate into sufficient pay for staff. If providers want to raise employees’ pay, they’d have to increase rates – something many providers are unable to do, either out of compassion or recognition that young families are tapped out.
To create the needed 85,000 child care slots, Kansas must recruit hundreds of providers. We’re not going to do that by overfilling their homes and classrooms or cutting the amount of training they need. We have to create a state where becoming a child care provider offers more than $10.90 an hour while not raising the cost for families.
It’s a massive undertaking, and it’s already underway. Individuals and organizations across the state are coming together to expand child care capacity and implement the current strategic plan for child care.
Policymakers will also have a new study over the summer to inform those efforts, and the Legislature will undoubtedly have a role to play in fixing the problem. Early childhood education stakeholders and professionals are eager to work with lawmakers on solutions that address the root of the child care shortage.
Hopefully that won’t have to include a repeal of Senate Sub. for HB 2344. We urge lawmakers to engage with professionals to create real, long-term solutions for child care in Kansas.
Daniel Klaassen joined Kansas Action for Children in August 2022 as the education policy adviser after 11 years working with Kansas students in the classroom. Through its opinion section, Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policies or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own commentary, here.
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