Although Kentucky’s investment in early-childhood education has increased in the past decade, the state still lags badly when it comes to important measures of progress such as kindergarten readiness and preschool enrollment.
That was among the messages delivered by Amanda Greenwell during a March 2 virtual Early Childhood Education Panel held as part of Kentucky’s Live United Days 2021. Greenwell, director of United Way of Greater Cincinnati’s Northern Kentucky Area Center, advocated for effective policy changes and increased funding to improve the lives of young children and families.
Kentucky ranks 41st nationally in preschool enrollment, Greenwell said, and year after year, only half of the state’s incoming kindergartners score “prepared” on a screening tool used widely by schools. In addition, readiness rates are far lower for Hispanic students, English-language learners, students with learning differences and students from low-income families.
United Ways across Kentucky and the nation are the largest investors in early-childhood education, after the government, Greenwell said. Prioritizing early-childhood education is crucial, she said, because kindergarten readiness has been linked to higher earning potential, better health outcomes and the ability to escape generational poverty. Children who are prepared for kindergarten are more likely to reach third-grade reading goals. Students not reading successfully by third grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school; low-income students who do not reach that benchmark are 13 to 17 times more likely to drop out.
Greenwell also advocated for changes to the state’s child care system. Kentucky’s federally subsidized Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) helps low-income families pay for child care so parents can work or attend school. In Kentucky, the reimbursement rate — the amount the state pays child care centers for each enrolled child — is 40 percent of market rate. The federal government requires states to aim for 75 percent of market rate to remain in good standing with Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) programs. Without additional state-level investment, Kentucky risks losing $90 million of annual CCDBG funding, Greenwell said.
Other panelists participating in the March 2 event were state Sen. Danny Carroll, state Rep. Susan Westrom, state Rep. Josie Raymond and Sarah Vanover, director of the Kentucky Division of Child Care.