Child care subsidy quality assurance program advanced

Lawmakers gave first-round approval April 30 to a bill aimed at creating a comprehensive system for assessing and promoting quality care among the state’s publicly subsidized child care providers.

LB507, introduced by Lincoln Sen. Kathy Campbell, would adopt the Step Up to Quality Act, which would put in a place a quality rating and improvement system (QRIS) for child care providers.

The system would develop quality ratings based on a five-tiered system and assign ratings to applicable programs. The QRIS would be available to all child care providers and early childhood education programs in the state, but would be required for programs that receive significant public funds.

Under the bill, mandatory participation would be phased in over a three-year period. Beginning July 1, 2014, programs that received over $500,000 in child care subsidy assistance in fiscal year 2011-12 would become subject to the QRIS and programs that received over $250,000 in that fiscal year would join starting July 1, 2015.

Beginning July 1, 2016, programs that received over $250,000 in subsidies in the previous fiscal year would become participants.

The state departments of health and human services and education would be required to develop, implement and provide oversight to the QRIS and would make program ratings public beginning in 2017. The QRIS also would include incentives for participating programs to improve their quality of care based on measurable outcomes.

Campbell said the first 1,000 days in a child’s life are the most important in his or her development and program quality affects school readiness, future academic achievement and general success in life.

Given the amount of public funds involved in subsidized child care in Nebraska, she said, the state should work to ensure that high-quality care is provided.

“Nebraska spends nearly $95 million in child care subsidies in federal and state funds,” she said, “but there is not one minimum standard of quality. Therefore, no consideration is given to whether or not these funds purchase the kind of care found to reduce the achievement gap for children at risk for failure in school.”

Lincoln Sen. Danielle Conrad offered an amendment, originally introduced as LB625, that would expand eligibility to the state’s subsidized child care program.

Currently, eligibility is capped at 120 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL). Conrad said the rate was cut in 2002 from 185 percent of FPL to the current rate.

LB625 originally would have restored the rate to 185 percent. Instead, the amendment offered would increase the rate to 125 percent of FPL in fiscal year 2013-14 and 130 percent of FPL in FY2014-15 and thereafter.

Calling it “abysmal” that Nebraska ranks 50th in the country in eligibility for child care subsidies, Conrad said the state needs to assist low-income parents in their efforts to become self-sufficient.

“By moving slightly up the ladder in terms of our eligibility … we improve the quality of life for Nebraska working families and children and do so in a measured and responsible manner,” she said.

Lincoln Sen. Kate Bolz, who selected LB507 as her priority bill this session, supported both amendments. She said the state has a large percentage of parents in the workforce who need access to quality child care and a way to make informed decisions regarding providers.

“Nebraska ranks number two in the nation for participation in the labor force,” Bolz said.

Hoskins Sen. Dave Bloomfield suggested that lawmakers in 2002 were right to reduce the FLP eligibility rate and that the cap should not be increased.

“Let’s look at the possibility that maybe we were a little too generous to start with,” he said.

The Conrad amendment and a technical amendment offered by the Health and Human Services Committee both were adopted 26-0.

Senators advanced LB507 to select file on a 27-0 vote.

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