A robust child care system that provides a continuum of high-quality care from infancy through school-age is essential for meeting the needs of kids and families today. That system includes afterschool, summer, and other school-age child care programs (also known as out-of-school time or OST programs) that serve children ages 5-12 when school is out. But, in Kentucky, more than 200,000 children are waiting for an available afterschool program, with cost and lack of programs preventing families from participating. As a result, Kentucky children are missing out on life-changing learning experiences, Kentucky parents are working less, and Kentucky businesses are losing productivity as a result of the ongoing workforce crisis.
Since 2019, the Kentucky Out-of-School Alliance (KYOSA) has been studying Kentucky’s OST program landscape, identifying relationships between population demographics and program supply. In 2020, we launched an interactive mapping tool called the KYOSA Data Explorer to help Kentuckians visualize where the need for affordable, high-quality OST programming is the greatest. To learn more about the KYOSA Data Explorer, visit kyoutofschoolalliance.org/kyosa-data-explorer.
A online provider survey, conducted by the Afterschool Alliance and Edge Research between March 21 through April 12, 2022, revealed that nearly 7 in 10 (68%) OST providers in Kentucky have families on a waiting list, compared to just over half (51%) nationally. Additionally, providers expressed worries around barriers to programming, with nearly 6 in 10 (57%) sharing they are extremely/very concerned that “there are children in our community who need afterschool programming, and are not able to access it”. A deeper dive into Kentucky’s current OST program landscape using the KYOSA Data Explorer reveals that access to no- or low-cost school-age child care largely depends on where you live and what school your child attends.
School-age child care access in Kentucky: A tale of two counties
Floyd County and Whitley County are demographically similar. As of the 2020 census, Floyd County had a total population of 35,942 and Whitley County had a population of 36,712. In addition, both counties are predominantly white, located in the Appalachian region of the state, and classified as “persistent poverty counties.”
Despite these similarities, families in Whitley County have a much easier time finding affordable school-age child care than do families in Floyd County. In 2022, we identified just 6 OST program sites in Floyd County compared to 27 in Whitley County. Furthermore, of the 27 identified sites in Whitley County, 21 (78%) are non-fee-based, meaning that participating children and families access these programs free of charge. In Floyd County, none of the 6 sites we identified were non-fee-based. The maps below further highlight these disparities.
Which counties have free school-age child care programs?
If we zoom out and look at non-fee-based program access by county, we see that some counties are fortunate to have a moderate to high level of non-fee-based program supply. However, the overwhelming majority of counties in Kentucky (even those located in persistent poverty zones) have no access to non-fee-based programs. The map below shows each county’s level of non-fee-based OST program supply. Levels are assigned based on the total number of non-fee-based OST programs identified in 2022 per total school-age population in a given area.
Disparities at every level
But, differences don’t just exist between counties. Living in different neighborhoods in the same town or city or being an elementary student versus a high school student can also mean very different opportunities, especially when cost is a barrier. For example, in the city of Berea, Kentucky, we identified a total of 10 program sites. All but one of these sites are fee-based. Furthermore, to attend the one non-fee-based program in the city (a federally-funded 21st Century Community Learning Center), a student must be a high school student in the Berea Independent School District. For families with elementary-age children, fee-based programs are the only option. The map below shows all Title I schools and non-fee-based OST programs located within Berea city limits.
While Kentucky’s Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) is designed to help low-income families pay for child care up to age 13 through subsidies paid directly to participating providers, very few families who meet the program’s eligibility requirements are actually able to take advantage of it. According to a 2021 report by the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, “the median amount of time a Kentucky family participates in CCAP is 6 months, which can partially be attributed to a low-income threshold and a complicated enrollment process.”
For families in need of school-age care, an undersupply of OST programs in Kentucky that can accept subsidies means that, even if a family is approved for CCAP, there is no guarantee they will be able to find a qualifying program in their area, let alone one that has an opening. This is because, under current Kentucky Administrative Regulations, all programs wishing to receive public funds must be licensed or certified and participate in the state’s Quality Rating & Improvement System (QRIS), even though many OST program settings are currently exempt from child care licensing requirements. The 2022 KYOSA Data Explorer shows 15 counties across the state identified as having no OST programs that accept CCAP subsidies.
Where do we go from here?
Kentucky families value and rely on OST programs. According to America After 3PM, 94% of Kentucky parents are satisfied with their child’s program, with 80% reporting that their program helps them keep their job. Additionally, there is strong, bipartisan support for greater investment in OST. Overall, 83% of Kentucky parents (Republicans: 81%, Democrats: 88%, and Independents: 91%) support public funding for these programs.
Clearly, much work is needed to ensure that every community across Kentucky has access to high-quality OST programs that meet the needs of young people and working families. To guide this work, KYOSA launched in August 2022 a coalition called the School-Age Child Care Advisory Council. The Council is comprised of a diverse group of school-age child care stakeholders representing nearly 30 organizations and agencies across all regions of Kentucky. In January, KYOSA published a set of legislative and administrative priorities based on feedback received from the Council between August and December of 2022.
To review the priorities and learn more about how you can advocate for improving access to school-age child care, visit https://kyoutofschoolalliance.org/school-age-child-care-policy-priorities/.