During their Virtual Advocate Forum last week, Kentucky Youth Advocates released their 2021 Blueprint for Kentucky’s Children state policy priorities, which seeks to address issues around child health, safety, education, families’ economic security, and more. The Blueprint for Kentucky’s Children is a coalition of non-profit, public, and private organizations that stands on three pillars: thriving communities launch strong families, strong families launch successful kids, and successful kids launch a prosperous future for Kentucky.
The focus of this year’s Blueprint is working to “overcome the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and address systemic racism.” This includes advocating for expanding access to child care and greater investment in “services that promote student success, health, safety, and well-being.”
Among the many budget investments outlined in this year’s Blueprint, those most relevant to the out-of-school time (OST) field include:
- Encouraging the growth of regulated home-based family child care options to help expand child care access across the state, as currently half of Kentucky communities are “child care deserts” – areas where families have limited or no access to child care
- Investing in infrastructure to close the digital divide so that kids can access the educational resources and telehealth services they need
- Ensuring dedicated funding to implement the Expanded Care Services Policy – a policy recently approved by the federal government that allows school districts to be able to bill Medicaid for health services (including behavioral health screenings, counseling, and immunizations) that are provided to Medicaid eligible students within the school building or virtual school setting
- Sustaining state investment in Family Resource and Youth Service Centers (FRYSCs) to help ensure that all eligible schools (schools where 20% or more of enrolled students are eligible for free or reduced-price school meals) are able to establish a center
Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers joined on the forum and gave attendees a look ahead to the 2021 Kentucky General Assembly. According to Pres. Stivers, a top priority will be developing session protocols around COVID-19 and implementing policies and systems to allow the state to better “assess the quality of children’s environments as a whole,” from school to home and everything in between. Stivers also pointed out that it will be important for policymakers to have data that shows them just where the disparities are, especially by race/ethnicity, income level, and zip code.
As COVID-19 continues to unmask the many issues that currently limit access to high quality OST programming, especially among low-income students and students of color, the OST field is well-positioned right now to make the case that afterschool and summer learning programs should be a key component to any COVID-19 recovery plan. But there is much work that needs to be done to educate policymakers and other key decision-makers about the benefits children and families receive by having access to affordable, high-quality OST programs.