Suffolk County Welfare to Work Commission Pitches $5M Pre-K Plan

Suffolk County Welfare to Work Commission
Suffolk County Welfare to Work Commission Vice Chair Kathy Liguori (left) and Chair Richard Koubek, PhD (far right) stand beside Keesha Bailey (at podium) testify to the failings of the under-funded child care system in Suffolk County Monday, June 23, 2014 at the Suffolk County Legislative Building. (Jaime Franchi/Long Island Press)

The Suffolk County Welfare to Work Commission released an in-depth analysis Monday that found many eastern Long Island families need help providing quality preschool programs for their children.

The report recommended creating a Suffolk County Child Care and Early Learning Commission to help coordinate services, urging New York State to change the formula that underfunds Suffolk County’s working poor, increasing the allocation of county funds for child care to stimulus-era amounts and establishing a Suffolk County Children’s Trust Fund to alleviate some of the unmet needs of preschool-age children. They estimated cost is about $5 million—far higher than the $580,000 allocated in the state budget for such programs.

“Adequate funding has not kept up with the rhetoric,” said Richard Koubek, who authored the report and chairs the commission that was designed to aid politicians in making policy decisions.

Koubek cited the 2013 State of the Union Address in which President Barack Obama called for expanded preschool educational opportunities as a starting point for the conversation.

The report, titled “Who’s Minding the Kids? Meeting Challenges and Creating Opportunities for Quality Child Care and Early Learning in Suffolk County,” included testimony and information gleaned from two public hearings, 11 focus groups and a survey that polled more than 100 parents. Some of the Island’s leading child-care and early-learning experts weigh in, citing extensive research pointing to the fact that extensive brain growth occurs between ages birth to 5 years old, yet 95 percent of education funding is aimed at students 5 and older.

The lack of adequate programs also presents a financial conundrum to the underprivileged. On LI, which has the sixth-highest cost of living in the nation., most mothers need to hold a job outside of the home to make ends meet. Yet, without enough child care programs to serve them, families are torn between non-accredited, unsafe child-care conditions, or sacrificing employment.

The commission illustrated the point with Keesha Bailey, a working mother of four. When she was pregnant with her fourth child, her hourly wage was raised 75 cents. This brought her $8 above the maximum to qualify her for subsidized child care for her two youngest children. When she lost a challenge of that determination, she was charged $17,000 for child care used while she attended the hearing.

She’s currently paying off her debt in $50 weekly increments. She estimates that it will take nine-and-a-half years to fully repay it, long after her last child has graduated pre-K.

The commission found that investment in comprehensive early education programs will pay off in the long term, resulting in students who are more “college and career ready,” require less special-education funding and will be more likely to contribute positively and financially to LI in adulthood. The commission said its recommendations would help Bailey’s children and those like them by expanding child-care subsidy eligibility for working-poor families.

“As a county,” said Dana Friedman, president and founder of the Early Years Institute, “we can do better.”

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