June 21, 2024

Bill lowering child care rules passes Kansas Senate

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Child care regulations would be lowered in Kansas under a bill that has won Senate approval and created a debate over how best to address a shortage of day care spots without compromising safety.
The 21 to 17 vote Thursday sends the measure, backed by the parents of two young children, to the Kansas House, the Wichita Eagle reports.
The bill would roll back some of the changes put in place under a law named after Lexie Engelman, a 13-month-old child who suffered fatal injuries in a Johnson County day care in 2004. It would decrease training and continuing education requirements from teachers and staff in child care facilities while increasing the child-to-adult maximum ratio requirement for facilities.
“The current system is causing people to seek unregulated care,” said Republican Sen. Kristen O’Shea of Topeka.
She and fellow Republican Sen. Chase Blasi of Wichita described their bill as the beginning of an answer in Kansas to a shortage of child care spots.
The state needs more than 85,000 new child care slots to meet existing demand, according to Child Care Aware of Kansas, a chapter of a national organization aimed at promoting quality child care.
But Kelly Davydov, executive director of Child Care Aware of Kansas, said the changes made after Lexie’s Law put Kansas at the top of the nation in terms of child safety.
“It really at that time launched us to the front of the line in terms of quality early care and education,” Davydov said. “Some of the changes in this bill are moving us away from national health and safety standards and best practices.”
Furthermore, Davydov said, the decreased continuing education could put Kansas out of compliance with existing requirements to receive federal child care funding.
Blasi said any issues regarding federal funding could be addressed as the bill works its way through the statehouse. He argued Kansas is more stringent than most other states, and the bill would bring the state’s requirements closer to the national averages.
But Sen. Mary Ware, a Wichita Democrat, called the bill rushed. While it may create more slots, she said it might do so by harming the safety of children and workers.
“It is not child-centered. It isn’t even child care worker-centered,” Ware said.
Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly, a Democrat, has prioritized child care in her second term and announced a task force earlier this year to study the child care system in Kansas.
Her office said in a statement she would evaluate the legislation if it reaches her desk. Last year the Kansas Department of Health and Environment considered ratio changes similar to what was proposed in the bill. But those regulatory changes were halted after some providers expressed concern.
In a statement Matt Lara, a spokesman for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, said the agency is currently conducting a comprehensive review of existing regulations.