Child care subsidy quality assurance program amended, advanced

Lawmakers gave second-round approval May 22 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 education and health and human services 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.

The bill was amended on general file to include provisions originally introduced by Lincoln Sen. Danielle Conrad as LB625, which would expand eligibility for the state’s subsidized child care program.

Currently, eligibility is capped at 120 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL). LB507 would increase the rate to 125 percent of FPL in fiscal year 2013-14 and 130 percent of FPL in FY2014-15 and thereafter.

Sen. Dan Watermeier of Syracuse introduced an amendment that would have capped the rate at 125 percent. He said expanding eligibility to families earning 130 percent of FPL would cost the state approximately $860,000 per year.

“This was a fiscal issue for me,” Watermeier said.

Hoskins Sen. Dave Bloomfield supported the amendment, saying the 125 percent FPL was a reasonable increase.

“At some point, government cannot continue to grow and cost our taxpayers more money,” he said. “At some point, families are responsible.”

Lincoln Sen. Colby Coash opposed the amendment, saying expanding eligibility for quality child care is a good long-term investment for the state’s taxpayers. Helping the working poor become self-sufficient benefits all Nebraskans, he said.

“LB507 is a workforce initiative,” Coash said. “The barriers to work are the barriers to child care.”

The Watermeier amendment failed on a vote of 10-27.

Campbell offered an amendment that would require child care facilities subject to the bill’s provisions to achieve a rating of step three or higher in order to be eligible for a higher reimbursement rate.

The amendment also would allow child care facilities that have regained licensure following a revocation to be eligible to participate in the rating system.

Following adoption of the Campbell amendment 39-0, senators advanced LB507 by voice vote.

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