Arbitrary barriers to child-care assistance can harm parents working to gain education, skills

Emily Fetsch
May 17, 2019

As the school year ends and Kansans across the state cross the stage in graduation ceremonies, we should reflect on the benefits of an education. One area where Kansas helps parents attain those benefits is by providing child care assistance as they work toward educational attainment. Unfortunately, too many barriers prevent access to this critical support.

Nationally, nearly one in five young parents (18 percent), defined as parents between the ages of 18 and 24, has less than a high school diploma. Six in ten (61 percent) of young parents are employed part or full time. With lower levels of education and employment, young parents often face financial instability, resulting in a median family income for families with young parents of just $23,000 a year. 

In Kansas, we have 29,000 young parents and 36,000 Kansas children with young parents. Among these Kansas children, 72 percent of them are living in low-income families.

For the benefit for these children, their parents, and our state economy, it is important that parents gain the education they need to be economically successful. Kansas uses federal funding, through the Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF), to provide child care assistance for parents who are in education or training programs. However, the state implements arbitrary restrictions that make it more difficult for parents to gain the skills and degrees we know bolster economic stability.

A new report by the Urban Institute reviewed the policies of all 50 states and the District of Columbia, highlighting the unusual restrictions Kansas places on parents who are receiving CCDF funds. Nationally, 6.4 percent of families receive CCDF subsidies for education or training. In Kansas, it’s only 0.5 percent of families.

  • For Kansas families receiving TANF, less than 1 percent (0.9 percent) receive CCDF subsidies for education or training, compared with 23 percent nationally.
  • For Kansas families not receiving TANF, half of a percent (0.5 percent) receive CCDF subsidies for education or training, compared with 4 percent nationally.

This disparity is likely related to the additional restrictions put on parents working toward educational attainment.

Postsecondary or Training Activities

Forty-eight states and the District of Columbia approve postsecondary education or training activities for adult parents not receiving TANF. Of those states, 30 states have additional requirements, including Kansas. Kansas is one of:

  • Ten other states with “a minimum weekly work requirement for parents in postsecondary education to be eligible for CCDF funds.”
  • Seven states with “enforced time limits on postsecondary education or training.”
  • Four states that require “students maintain a minimum grade point average (GPA) while in postsecondary education or training.”
  • Kansas is one of only two states (along with Oklahoma) that limits “child care assistance for postsecondary education and training to only one parent in the household. Both states required that one parent work during the hours the other parent was in training.”

High School or Equivalent Completion

Forty-four states and the District of Columbia approve child care assistance for parents attending “high school or equivalence program in at least some circumstances for adult parents not receiving TANF.” Of those, 15 states add stipulations, including Kansas. Kansas is one of eight states with work requirements for parents in a high school or GED program.

English Proficiency

While 32 states and the District of Columbia approve “English literacy activities in at least some circumstances for adult parents not receiving TANF,” Kansas does not.

The child care assistance Kansas policy is restricting is funded by federal dollars. The state can remove these arbitrary barriers placed on parents to increase educational attainment, which will benefit generations of Kansans. Policymakers should encourage the continued funding of CCDF to ensure that eligible families are able to receive child care assistance. Similarly, policymakers must ensure that parents in educational programs are treated with the same priority as working parents.

By removing these barriers, we can encourage educational attainment for parents. Higher levels of education are associated with lower levels of poverty. We know that children and families do better when they are economically stable. If we want children, families, and our state to succeed, we must do more to help parents completing their degrees.

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