In the field of early childhood, we plan. And we learn that our plans don’t always fully take shape, but we keep planning to move the issue forward. One important plan that we can use to guide our policy work is Virginia’s annual submission for the use of Child Care Development Block Grant funds, known as the CCDF Plan. The state Department of Social Services released their most recent plan on March 25, 2013 and encourages public comment on this plan through May 15, 2013. Voices culled through the plan to get a better sense of the direction VDSS wanted to head, and to better understand how these significant resources would be used. Voices is primarily concerned with how these funds for child care licensing and assistance are used to ensure that low-income working families have access to care, quality improvement efforts and, that overall, we are planning for a stronger system of support for early learning initiatives.
First of all, since we follow the money, we want to know where it ends in this plan. The total proposed funding the FY13-14 plan is just over $7 million more than the previous year. And although allocations for the FY13 budget at the federal level are yet to be finalized, it appears as though CCDBG could remain relatively unharmed with sequestration cuts offset by a budget proposal that would increase overall funding. However, as this has yet to be finalized, we will cross our fingers that cuts to this figure do not come to bear. The legislature has passed funding levels for the use of CCDBG funds that would slightly increase the funds designated to TANF families and slightly reduce the amount for fee-based families. The total funding proposed to support quality initiatives, including licensing inspectors, is $800,000 over FY12-13 yet represents less than 10% of the total budgeted amount.
We wanted to share a few highlights of what is included in the CCDF plan in terms of policy direction and guidance.
1. The plan highlights the success of partnerships around quality improvement initiatives such as the partnership with VECF to implement the VA STAR Quality Initiative and the partnership with Child Development Resources to implement the Infant and Toddler Specialist Network. These public-private partnerships have grown over the last few years and continue to be a useful approach for delivering professional development activities. In Virginia, 304 classrooms have current STAR ratings and 59 family homes have been rated. In 2012, 10,661 early care professionals attended training, events or received coaching through the Infant and Toddler Specialist Network.
2. The plan outlines a new co-payment scale for families receiving fee-based assistance. The scale would create a progressive co-payment plan that allows the lowest income families, those at the poverty level, to pay just 6% of their income as a co-payment. Currently all families pay 10% of their income as a co-pay regardless of income. This change would allow all families up to 160% of poverty to pay less than the 10% co-pay they currently contribute. This is an encouraging change prompting equity and will hopefully encourage more families to participate.
We also found some omissions in the plan that could be incorporated to strengthen our overall picture of this system.
1. VDSS has released an RFP that would take the Virginia Star Quality Improvement system statewide by creating 8 regional hubs to ensure linkages to state raters, coaches and technical assistance. The expansion of this network beyond the 75 localities where it is currently available will create a statewide framework for our existing pilot and provide access to this system. We hope that VDSS will consider this new framework and include some additional detail in Sections 3.3 to further development of this statewide network for the QRIS. Additionally, there are emerging plans for a regional network of professional development coordinators for early childhood educators and those in related fields that could enhance the quality improvement services offered through the QRIS hubs and through DSS and the web-based curriculum. We hope that future plans will detail how these regional hubs can be leveraged to partner with other training organizations and enhance the professional development opportunities for providers.
2. This coming year represents the first full year that the VaCMS data and payment system has been in place. During the mid-point of this current year (December 2012), as savings were identified from the implementation of the VaCMS, additional funds were identified to increase the reimbursement rates for some providers of preschool and school age children. In the future, it would be helpful to identify possible uses of any potential savings before the mid-year point, such as during the CCDF planning process, so that providers, local agencies and others may start to think ahead to the implementation and use of those funds should savings be identified.
3. A goal is stated to revisit the Licensing Standards for child care centers, yet procedural changes this year have prompted many questions about the standards of family home providers. We have concerns that with the number of children providers can serve without a license and the requirements to meet zoning ordinances, family home providers will not seek to renew their license or be unlicensed and not required to undergo any safety training or inspections. We encourage the department to revisit the family home standards as well.
4. Finally, we know that this past year has been a challenging year for the department, providers and parents as the VaCMS system has come into place. As we can hopefully say the difficult work is complete, it would be great to look at the opportunities in the future to better serve families because of this enhancement. I hope that through the CCDF plan comment process, we will hear from some families who participate and how the program has impacted their lives. Voices, as an advocate for families and children, sees several potential opportunities to use enhancements to benefit families. The first would be to change the eligibility policy to allow families who happen to lose their job to maintain eligibility for a short time while they are looking for work. This helps the child maintain the continuity of care. The second would be to identify savings or funds to move as many children off the waiting lists as possible. A waiting list of over 15,000 eligible children is far too many looking from quality care.
We hope that you will take the opportunity to comment on the CCDF plan and share these proposals with families receiving child care assistance or on the waiting list to receive care.
Please feel free to contact Emily Griffey at Emily@vakids.org or (804) 649-0184 ext. 34 if you have any questions about the plan.
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