08/11/13 — Partnership worried over Pre-K slots

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Partnership worried over Pre-K slots

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on August 11, 2013 1:50 AM

As officials await final allocations for preschool slots, officials at Partnership for Children of Wayne County are concerned for working parents seeking quality child care.

"In the last couple of weeks, we have had folks call here. We can't tell them anything. We don't know when we'll know," said Charles Ivey, executive director of the Partnership. "We feel their pain, we really do. I would love to have a pre-K slot for every 4-year-old that's qualified and that's interested.

"I personally feel we owe it to our families. We owe it to our society. But obviously others don't feel that way."

Nothing is set in stone from the legislative or state level, Ivey said, but he expects the pre-K programs to be affected.

"Right now, based on the ones that have been allocated, we have lost 11 slots over what we had last year at this time," he said. "We actually had 97 slots less than what we finished with.

"The General Assembly did add an additional 2,500 slots to the original allocation (for Wayne County). Those slots have not been divided out yet. We have just been asked to provide for a need and availabilities of classrooms."

Last year, programs like the Partnership were granted a reprieve. Before leaving office, former Gov. Bev Perdue shifted unused child-care subsidy money to enroll another 2,000 at-risk 4-year-olds to better programs.

But, Ivey noted, the latest 2,500 slots are actually 2,500 less than what Perdue gave out last December.

"We have been surveyed to see what our current need is, what our waiting list looks like and what the availability of space is because they want spaces that can be funded immediately," he said.

A lot of the preschool classes are not filled, Ivey said, explaining that, like the public schools, most classrooms have spaces for 18 students.

"We have allocated 17 instead of 18," he said. "We have been given funds for 17 and we're requesting funds for that extra one and some extra classrooms as well.

"Some facilities have lost a classroom. WAGES Head Start has lost one. They have in the past had five classes of pre-K. Right now, they're sitting at four. That's because they do not have the federal funds to support those classrooms."

The Partnership is requesting additional funds based on its original allotment, which is 491 slots.

"That's 11 less than August 2012, and it's 97 less than June 2013," Ivey said.

The down side, though, is that the Partnership is allocated money, not slots, and will divide up the openings based on where the child needs to be.

Part of the reason for fewer slots this year than last is because of how child care providers are reimbursed.

"There's different reimbursements, for private and public and different figures for Head Start classrooms because they get federal money," he said.

"Even if the private child care, they normally receive $650 per child per month in a classroom (where) the teacher is totally licensed. If she's qualified but not licensed, they get $600. If she gets her license during the year, that goes up to $650."

For now, the Partnership is tasked with determining how many spaces it thinks will be needed for the coming year, all while keenly aware that there is a waiting list that represents parents anxious to find a place for their child in the fall.

"The list, I have heard, it's over 100," Ivey said. "We're always concerned when you have a need of child care slots when they're not there. We're talking about a group of 4-year-olds. But we do not have the funds to serve them."

As the clock ticks down to the start of a new school year, Ivey said his heart goes out to parents having to make some tough choices.

"It's really a hard call on their part," he said. "Sometimes family members can take care of the child. Sometimes they bite the bullet and put them in less quality child care. Some cases have caused mom not to go to work. Of course, that's something we don't want to see in our economy.

"I'm concerned for the plight of the two working parents who barely make it, looking at the quality of child care they can afford, what kind of decisions they have to make."