Child care subsidy quality assurance program proposed

The Health and Human Services Committee heard testimony Feb. 20 on 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 approximately 43,000 Nebraska children qualified for publicly subsidized child care in FY2011-12. That year, she said, the licensed providers that cared for those children received over $94 million in public funds in the form of child care subsidy payments.

Given the amount of public funds involved, the state should work to ensure that high-quality care is provided, Campbell said, noting that program quality affects school readiness, future academic achievement and general success in life.

“The first five years of a child’s life lay the foundation for the future,” she said, “and a child should have quality child care no matter the resources of the child’s parents.”

Natalie Peetz, representing First Five Nebraska, supported the measure. She said Nebraska ranks among the top five states in the nation for the number of children with all available parents in the workforce. Those children are in someone else’s care during the day, she said, and the state has a stake in ensuring the quality of that care.

“LB507 is about accountability of existing funds,” Peetz said. “It’s about getting our house in order and ensuring a good return on the investment of taxpayer money.”

Fawn Taylor, executive director of early childhood services at Building Bright Futures, also testified in support of the bill. She said establishing a QRIS for child care providers and making the rankings public would be a valuable resource for struggling parents seeking quality care for their children.

“Right now, they have no way of knowing what’s good and what isn’t,” Taylor said.

No opposition testimony was given and the committee took no immediate action on the bill.

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