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Early childhood groups lobby for state assistance

Cape Gazette of Lewes, Delaware

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Providers say parents need help to pay for quality childcare

Early Childhood Education advocates shared breakfast and their thoughts on more funding to help low-income parents when they met with local legislators April 26 at Beach Babies in Lewes.

Kathy Moore, director of Sussex Tech's Parents and Children Together at Tech, said grants to pay childcare costs for low-income children are not meeting the need.

Moore said area early childhood development centers rely on purchase-of-care reimbursement to provide care for low-income children. When families receive purchase-of-care vouchers to offset childcare costs, she said, she can serve 20 children. The number drops to about 10 without it. "We provide quality care for so many low-income students," Moore said.

Cape's legislative contingent — Speaker of the House Rep. Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth; Sen. Ernie Lopez, R-Lewes; Rep. Steve Smyk, R-Milton; Rep. Ruth Briggs King, R-Georgetown; and Rep. Harvey Kenton, R-Milford — attended the breakfast but couldn't promise an influx of cash.

"None of us have cold hearts, but we deal in reality," Schwartzkopf said. "When we had money we pushed it down to early childhood, but in 2009 our world changed."

Facing a budget deficit, Schwartzkopf said, no purchase-of-care increases are expected.

"It's been a rough eight years," he said. "Extra money is hard to come by."

Briggs King said she would like legislators to re-examine the funding formula because New Castle County receives more money for purchase of care than Sussex.

"If we can do anything, let's look at the formula to make it more equitable," she said. "We support you even though we may not be able to get you the financial resources you want."

Smyk noted grant money, by nature, comes and goes, and groups should not become dependent on it.

As a former state police officer, he said, "We knew never to put a whole lot of faith in grant money."

Kenton, a member of the Joint Finance Committee, which considers budget requests for state operations, said healthcare costs alone have increased $100 million. The committee is working to figure out how to cover those costs, he said.

"Who do we take it away from? Fire companies, Sussex Consortium, education?" he asked.

Despite bleak financial projections, Lopez echoed the group's support for early education.

"Kids need to be in educational settings where they are shown support and where people care," he said.

Beach Babies owner Debbie Toner said she continues to push for more purchase-of-care reimbursements.

"We wanted legislators to hear our concerns," she said. "We were very happy with the turnout."

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Original Publication Date: May 17, 2016

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