On Monday, thousands of students kick off the new school year, full of hope, energy, curiosity and, for some, a certain degree of uncertainty.
The key to relieving a lot of that anxiety is in the hands of parents who have done their best to prepare their children with the best resources possible for early success. But thatís often a tall task for parents who are struggling with maintaining or keeping jobs while making sure their children have proper child care.
It is clear that Florida needs to do better by its children. Much more attention must be placed on parents who need help in placing their children in child-care programs such as those administered by the Early Learning Coalition of the Big Bend. The agency is responsible for providing subsidized child care for working parents.
A report in Fridayís Tallahassee Democrat provided a look at the challenges such programs face. Itís not a pretty picture. On top of being forced to provide services with what already was inadequate funding, the real kicker is that coalitions now face losing more of their allocations because of changes made by the stateís Office of Early Learning in how those dollars are doled out.
Lauren Faison, CEO of the Early Learning Coalition of the Big Bend, said the new formula means the local coalition will lose $370,000 in funding this year. More money may be lost in future years as the reallocation continues. Thatís because the Office of Early Learning will be sending more money to counties in central and South Florida that it determines have greater needs. That decision is based on several factors, including shifts in population and the percentage of people living in poverty.
But this decision doesnít take into account that this region also has tremendous needs for child care. ďJust because one area of Florida has a greater need doesnít mean we have a lesser need,Ē Ms. Faison said.
Coalition leaders are wise to not take the selfish route in response to the state agencyís decision to take money from some regions and redistribute it to others. Instead, coalition leaders are presenting a united front in advocating for more money across the board.
Currently more than 1,600 children in the seven-county region served by the Early Learning Coalition of the Big Bend have been on a waiting list since last August. Itís now a year later, and those numbers are only likely to increase.
Critics will point to the responsibility of parents. But with an economic downturn and the fluctuating job market, the reality is that, as parents seek to improve themselves through job training, they need help in finding care for their children.
Itís a concern that needs to be addressed by Gov. Rick Scott and members of the Legislature. The warning signs have been there for some time. Legislators have responded by saying they are making childrenís needs a priority, but the bottom line is that we must commit more money.
Ms. Faison points out that while more than $500 million was approved for subsidized child care in the current state budget, that is about $8 million less than the previous year. Locally, that translates into about $14.9 million for the local coalition, compared with $15.5 million in the previous year.
Faison estimates that, of the 1,600 on the waiting list, 75 percent are in Leon County. That actual number without proper child care is likely much higher, since many parents opt out of the registration process, knowing that hundreds of children are ahead on the list.
In the meantime, those committed to the cause can partner with the coalition. Ms. Faison welcomes community partners who can contribute financially by adopting a child-care center or sponsoring a child in need. If thatís not feasible, you can volunteer your services.
The need has become that great.
17 August 2012