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Delaware Senate Democrats

Package of legislation filed to improve access to early childhood education

March 3, 2023

DOVER —  Access to quality and affordable early childhood education is crucial for enhancing childhood development, supporting families, and bolstering Delaware’s workforce and economy. 

The Senate Majority Caucus outlined a slate of legislative priorities at the beginning of the 152nd General Assembly, which included improving the early childhood landscape. Sen. Kyle Evans Gay, (D-Brandywine Hundred)  is leading this work by introducing a package of legislation. 

Senate Bill 59, sponsored by Sen. Kyle Evans Gay,  Speaker of the House Pete Schwartzkopf, Sen. Russ Huxtable, and Senate Minority Whip, Sen. Brian Pettyjohn, would require the Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) to pay a statewide Purchase of Care rate to all child care providers that aligns with New Castle County rate. For years, Kent and Sussex counties’ Purchase of Care rate has been significantly lower than New Castle County’s rate. Because of this, childcare providers in Kent and Sussex counties have struggled to serve many families in need. Senate Bill 59 serves as a critical step to addressing geographic parity and increasing access to early childhood education statewide. 

“Access to high-quality early education  should not depend on a child’s zip code. The current inequity of Purchase of Care rates unfairly disadvantages many communities where the need for high quality child care is the highest.” said Sen. Gay. “Families statewide should be able to make the best choices for their children. This is not a partisan issue, and I am proud to work alongside my colleagues in the House and Senate to better support families. ”

“Purchase of Care exists to help Delawareans by subsidizing childcare for lower-income working families, removing it from the long list of critical expenses they face. But this long standing funding inequity has made it difficult for downstate families to make ends meet,” said Rep. Schwartzkopf (D-Rehoboth Beach). “By equalizing the funding rate across the entire state, we’re saying that it doesn’t matter where you live: no Delaware working family should be forced to choose between childcare and other household expenses. I’m grateful to see strong bipartisan support for this bill and look forward to passing it in the House once the Senate sends it to us.”

“Purchase of care has been a program in desperate need of an overhaul,” Senate Minority Whip Brian Pettyjohn (R – Georgetown) said. “Access to quality child care is vital and the cost has been a huge burden for many families, particularly following the COVID-19 pandemic. Creating a uniform Purchase of Care system across the state is necessary, and will encourage participation in the workforce and increase retention of child care workers.”

Senate Bill 58, sponsored by Sen. Sarah McBride, Rep. Kerri Evelyn Harris, Sen. Kyle Evans Gay, and House Majority Whip, Rep. Melissa Minor-Brown permanently removes all the copayments for Purchase of Care families that earn up to 200% of the federal poverty level. During the COVID-19 pandemic, DHSS suspended copayments, but will reinstate copayments unless the General Assembly acts.

“The cost of early childcare is unaffordable for far too many families in Delaware. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw that copayments were an additional and unnecessary burden on families that the State could afford to carry.” said Sen. Sarah McBride, (D-Wilmington). “Ending copayments will give families relief and a sense of security when accessing quality childcare in our state.”

Senate Bill 58 addresses affordability concerns that parents and advocates have been raising for years. To give people the opportunity to discuss those concerns, Senator Gay is hosting a statewide series of town halls about early childhood education. These town halls are designed to bring together elected officials, families, providers, employers, and advocacy organizations, to listen to one another and develop solutions.

Senate Bill 58 also requires DHSS to pay child care providers for up to 15 absent days per child per month for families. This additional component allows early learning programs to help families with children of the most need.

“These bills will allow providers to plan more than one month at a time.  By eliminating parent co-pays we reduce the burden on parents and allow centers to receive consistent funding.” said Jamie Schneider, President of the Delaware Association for the Education of Young Children (DEAEYC). “For Kent and Sussex counties we are hopeful that a statewide rate will allow providers to increase salaries for the existing workforce, hire new staff, and re-open classrooms that have been closed since 2020. This will ultimately allow more families to access care where it is needed most.”

“These bills are the first phase of legislation designed to support the transformation of Delaware’s early childhood education system” said Sen. Gay. “Our state economy requires a strong foundation of early education. We cannot allow families and childcare providers to continue to struggle.”

Both Senate Bill 59 and Senate Bill 58 have been assigned to the Senate Health and Social Services Committee.