Beaver County Times: Budget impasse creates funding challenges for child care providers

By Katherine Schaeffer

When Bridgette Medva drops off her children, ages 2 and 3, at Beaver’s Kiddie Korner Child Development Center before work, Pennsylvania’s budget impasse isn’t usually at the front of her mind.

But lately, Medva — a working single mom who qualifies for reduced-price child care through the state’s Child Care Works program — says she wonders what might happen if the Legislature doesn’t come to an agreement, potentially halting those subsidies, soon.

“It’s not an option to take them out of day care,” she said, adding that the private rate for both children would total more than a house payment. “I have no family able to watch them.”

Pennsylvania’s state budget has been in limbo for more than four months, leaving private child care providers who rely on state subsidies and grants to fend for themselves, said Kate Phillips, spokeswoman for the nonprofit Pre-K for PA coalition. In the worst cases, providers reduced staff pay or shut their doors completely, she said.

“These centers are counting on dollars that flow from the state, and all of them have gone without that since June,” Phillips said.

In Beaver County, child care providers say they haven’t had to make drastic cuts, but without expected grant money and other subsidies, finances are tight.

In Beaver County, 206 children are enrolled in federally funded pre-kindergarten and Head Start programs, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Education. Private child care providers receive state reimbursements through Child Care Works, a subsidy program for low-income families, and can also apply for merit-based grants through state initiatives like Keystone Stars, which incentivizes providers to improve staff training and curriculum.

At Just Like Home Daycare Center and Preschools, which has four locations in Center, Vanport, Hopewell and Chippewa townships, the Child Care Works subsidies, disbursed through Beaver County’s Child Care Information Services office, are still coming in, co-owner Richard Pavlinch said. But state grocery reimbursements for kids qualifying for free or reduced-price lunch stopped a few months ago, creating challenges, he said.

Just Like Home, which serves children from 6 weeks old to about sixth grade, provides formula for infants and breakfast, lunch and an afternoon snack for older children, Pavlinch said.

“It adds up, especially when you have four sites and you need to buy fresh things like fruits, vegetables and dairy,” Pavlinch said.

Meals still have to comply with state regulations, and Pavlinch’s four site directors are tasked with putting together nutritious meals on a much lower budget, he said.

Hardworking staff at all four centers still provide children with quality daily care, but right now, the center is focusing on purchasing just the essentials, he said.

“It’s not like this is a restaurant business, where you can raise the price of a meal to offset the cost,” Pavlinch said.

Beaver’s Kiddie Korner hasn’t made any drastic cuts, but without promised state grant and merit-based award money, planning improvements has been a challenge, site director Kelly Battaglia said.

About 30 percent of Kiddie Korner’s families qualify for state subsidized child care, but the grant money they usually receive from Keystone Stars hasn’t come in, she said.

Battaglia said she had planned to phase in new curriculum, purchase gross motor activities and install sinks in every classroom, but she’s had to hold off until the grants are disbursed.

“The children aren’t stopping,” Battaglia said. “They’re growing and developing, and we can’t say, ‘Just hold off until they pass a budget.’”

Robin Moye, center director for Noah’s Ark, which has locations in Chippewa and Beaver Falls, said maintaining services has only been a minor hiccup, but she’s had to make sacrifices in order to continue with planned improvements, putting renovations to the Chippewa facility’s two school-age rooms on her personal credit cards.

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