Momentum is building across Kentucky for increased access to high-quality early learning opportunities for our youngest children and stronger support for their working parents.  The Kentucky Early Childhood Education Taskforce, co-chaired by Senator Danny Carroll (R-02) and Representative Samara Heavrin (R-18), united leaders from both parties and both houses of the legislature to tackle access to early education, Governor Beshear made reference to the importance of early education throughout the 2022 Kentucky legislative session, and local leaders in communities like Owensboro have united to secure greater opportunities for early learning at the local level.  

And for good reason.  Access to high-quality early learning is critical to the success of Kentucky’s young children and their families: 

  • Exposure to early education opportunities closes gaps in achievement for all children throughout their educational and life experiences. 
  • According to The Education Commission of the States, children who participate in early learning arrive at kindergarten better prepared, ultimately increasing their likelihood of meeting standards in reading and math by the close of the third grade.  
  • Additionally, per the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, early learning experiences better prepare young children for social interactions, strengthen emotional competencies, and bolster pro-social emotional dispositions among peer groups, better preparing young children for a lifetime of working well with others. 

And yet, Kentucky ranks 41st in the nation in the number of four-year olds enrolled in preschool, a fall from 28th in the nation in 2008.  For the last decade, the total number of Kentucky children enrolled in preschool have flatlined at around 50%.  Further, per the KIDS COUNT Data Center,  half of all Kentucky kids arrive at kindergarten unprepared according the Brigance screener.  In their earliest years, half of Kentucky kids are left behind their peers who were fortunate enough to have received a stronger start earlier in their life journeys.  

As big of an impact that access to early education has on Kentucky’s youngsters, that access has a similarly important impact on their working parents.  Across Kentucky a patchwork system of early education opportunities exist to support young learners while their parents are working: 

  • Public preschool services provide opportunities for approximately 50% of young children in Kentucky, but per the National Institute for Early Education Research, only 94 of Kentucky’s 525 public preschool programs provide full day services, limiting access for working parents dependent on care for their child for a full working day. 
  • Complicating matters, access to other early learning opportunities, like private child care and early learning centers, are costly for working families. 
  • The average yearly cost of child care for preschool aged children in Kentucky, per Child Care Aware, comes in at just under $9,000 per year.  By comparison, the average price tag for tuition at a four-year college or university costs families about $10,700 per year.  

Early care and education opportunities for the children of working families is a key support needed in Kentucky’s economic ecosystem to support a strong workforce.  In the height of the pandemic, for example, over 45% of Kentucky parents in a statewide survey indicated that someone in the family had quit a job, did not take a job, or changed jobs due to child care issues.  More recently, over 100,000 Kentucky women have exited the workforce totally due to a lack of early care and education access and affordability.  

But it doesn’t have to be this way for Kentucky’s youngest children and their working parents. 

A system of mixed-delivery preschool is a best-practice model tested in Kentucky’s peer states and is the common-sense solution to effectively provide high-quality early learning to more of Kentucky’s children and to better support their working parents. 

This blog series will guide Kentuckians through an exploration of mixed-delivery preschool and the power this model has to benefit Kentucky’s children, their working parents, and Kentucky’s economy.

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Director of Early Childhood Policy & Practice

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