The American Rescue Plan (ARP), which provides over $2 billion in federal funding to state and local education agencies in Kentucky for afterschool, summer, and learning recovery programming as well as over $763 million for Kentucky’s struggling child care community, was seen as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to provide universal access to out-of-school time (OST) programs throughout the Commonwealth. Yet, updated data from the Kentucky Out-of-School Alliance (KYOSA) on Kentucky’s OST landscape at the start of the 2021-22 school year (available in the KYOSA Data Explorer) reveal continued disparities and uneven access to no and low cost programs, which are essential to ensuring that children from low and moderate income families can participate.
Obstacles to Identifying Programs
While identifying and mapping Kentucky’s “child care deserts” is a fairly straightforward process, there are a number of obstacles when it comes to attempting this in the out-of-school time space.
For starters, when we talk about “child care deserts,” we are referring to areas (counties, zip codes, Census tracts, etc.) where there is either no available state-regulated care or areas where there are at least 3 children vying for one available slot in a regulated child care facility. Since the Kentucky Division of Regulated Child Care is required under law to maintain where all of the licensed/certified/registered providers are in the state and their maximum capacity, which is the maximum number of children a facility can serve based on allowable ratios for certain age groups, and the data are publicly available, the process of identifying Kentucky’s child care deserts involves making a few simple calculations from using a single data source.
However, if we want to talk about “OST deserts” here in Kentucky, we run into the following issues. First, the standard definition of an OST program is any formal learning or child care program that operates outside school hours, with the term “formal” referring to any type of care or instruction that is operated outside a child’s home and is guided by a set schedule or curriculum. As a result, the OST field is highly diverse and involves many different kinds of programs all operating across different settings, during different times of the day or year, under different sources of funding, and offering very different types of programming depending on their unique focus.
Because many out-of-school time programs qualify for a license-exemption under the current regulations (see Section 3 of 922 KAR 2:090 for a complete list), they do not have to register with the Kentucky Division of Regulated Child Care. While some states require all license-exempt OST programs to register with another state agency, such as the Health and Human Services department, to track the number of providers from year to year and ensure that basic health and safety standards are being met, Kentucky is a state that has no such requirement. As a result, the data necessary to accurately identify “OST deserts” across Kentucky and monitor changes from year to year – in the same way we do for state-regulated child care – simply do not exist.
Generating “The List”
Well aware of these issues but recognizing the critical importance for stakeholders to have at least some sense of what Kentucky’s OST landscape looks like from year to year, KYOSA set out in the fall of 2019 to develop a tool that would provide the public with access to the most comprehensive data possible on this population. To do this involved identifying organizations and agencies that are known to sponsor or oversee OST programs and asking if they would be willing to share site lists and any other descriptive data they had available with us. Trying to find a way to capture the many independent OST programs that are allowed to operate without a license in Kentucky, we also launched a form on our website that allowed any program that met the definition of a “formal OST program” to share their information with us so we could add them to our list. The end result was a single dataset that includes every location of every OST program KYOSA has to date been able to identify through these methods, which was most recently updated in October 2021.
What the Updated Data Reveal
After categorizing each program site from our updated lists as either “fee-based” or “non-fee-based” (i.e. programming is provided to participating students at no cost to their families) and geocoding their locations, KYOSA worked with GIS (Geographic Information Systems) specialists at PolicyMap to aggregate the geocoded points at various geographies, ranging from Census tracts to school districts to Congressional districts. Using these aggregations, KYOSA and the team at PolicyMap were also able to examine how the total number of known programs in a specific area relates to the total population of children ages 5-17 living in these areas and the percent of all programs in an area that are non-fee-based. These data, plus a range of data related to community demographics, incomes and spending, quality of life, and education, are all available in a public-facing interactive mapping tool called the KYSOA Data Explorer, first launched in October 2020.
As of the start of the 2021-22 school year, KYOSA was able to identify 1,499 unique programs operating across Kentucky, but they are not evenly distributed across all areas of the state. No programs of any kind were identified in a total of 9 Kentucky counties, while no non-fee-based programs were identified in a total of 65 counties. Despite identifying several new programs through our online “Add a Program” form, the total number of known OST sites in Kentucky declined by 80 (-5%) from October 2020 to October 2021.
Issues around Affordability and Transportation
Looking at issues around affordability and transportation, which continue to be top roadblocks to participation for many families in Kentucky, our data reveal that just 14% of all programs sites we were able to identify for the 2021-22 school year are non-fee-based. In addition, an estimated 15% of all fee-based programs do not accept Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) subsidies, which are subsidies low-income families in Kentucky who earn less than 160% of the federal poverty level can receive to help pay for child care up to age 13. The average cost for fee-based programs in Kentucky, which is $117.90 per week per child, is simply incongruent with average incomes in Kentucky, which work out to $972.87 per week (pre-tax) for all households and $444.31 per week (pre-tax) for single female-headed households with children.
While an estimated 42% if all identified programs seem to provide some type of transportation service or support to participant children, current data available from the Kentucky Division of Regulated Child Care on licensed school-age child care programs do not make clear what type of transportation is provided, if any, specifically for school-age children. This is because the data only tell us whether or not a program is licensed to provide transportation — not if they do, to whom, and how. So, this percentage is likely a gross overestimate of the true number of programs in Kentucky able to provide transportation service or support to school-age children to help them safely get to and from program sites.
Gaps in Access to Non-Fee-Based Programs and Programs Accepting Subsidies
Exacerbating these issues is the fact that Kentucky’s limited supply of non-fee-based programs and programs accepting CCAP subsidies is also not evenly distributed across the state. To illustrate this, we created an interactive map that shows how non-fee-based supply and the supply of programs accepting CCAP varies across the state at different levels. Areas with a larger number of non-fee-based programs, relative to population size or total identified program supply, tend to be areas where there is a high concentration of 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLCs) – the only 100% publicly funded OST programs in Kentucky before the passage of the ARP – or programs targeted towards at-risk youth that are run by large nonprofits like Save the Children.
Because 21st CCLC grants are awarded through a grant competition and not simply a formula based on need, districts with a large supply of 21st CCLCs tend to be “high capacity Title I districts” – i.e. districts that have Title I status but also have significant resources (on their own or through partnership with another organization) to apply for and oversee a complex federal grant program. Unsurprisingly, as the first map shows, many at-risk students, often living in some of the most rural parts of the state with the highest rates of poverty and lowest educational outcomes, do not have access to non-fee-based OST programs and all of the benefits that go along with OST participation.
How can Kentucky address this problem?
As outlined above, the ARP has made available an unprecedented amount of funding for OST programming. While many schools and districts across Kentucky were able to offer free summer programming to K-12 students this past summer, aimed at reversing COVID-related learning loss, it remains unknown which schools offered such opportunities, how many students participated, the type of programming and services they received and for how long, as well as whether or not they will have the chance to participate again.
As the pandemic has laid bare, the need for child care and expanded learning opportunities does not end when children enter Kindergarten. But, too many children and families lack access to affordable options. For Kentucky to develop effective solutions, the state must first prioritize the critical need for comparable statewide data on all OST programs throughout the Commonwealth.