With about 500 families that have children under 12 years old, the Pleasantville School District is among the districts strongly advocating for increased child care funding from the state and federal governments.
At its meeting last Tuesday, the Board of Education announced steps that are being taken to help connect parents with reliable and affordable child care resources. The board also appealed to state and federal officials to release funds already earmarked for child care.
Board member Jill Grossman initiated the outreach by meeting with Kathy Halas, executive director of the Child Care Council of Westchester. That outreach resulted in learning about specific policy issues and the presentation of a webinar for parents last Wednesday hosted by the council.
The webinar discussed free services to help working parents find safe and affordable child care in Westchester, while also addressing other issues. The tape version of the webinar will be shared by the district to the public as soon as possible.
Advocacy to help parents and child care businesses is among the board’s highest priorities. The federally sponsored CARES Act, passed by Congress in March, provided $162 million in child care funding to New York State; $70 million of that funding has yet to be allocated.
Last week the board was also in the process of completing letters to state and federal officials asking for much-needed funds to help parents by supporting child care programs. The letters are being sent to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, state Sen. Peter Harckham (D-Lewisboro), Assemblyman Thomas Abinanti (D-Pleasantville) and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers). Among other requests, Grossman said the board will ask the state to release the remaining $70 million in CARES money.
“The letter also calls for increasing child care tax credits for families and to adjust the income threshold so more families can qualify for the tax credits because the threshold is so low,” she said.
Currently a family of three living in Westchester making more than $44,000 fails to qualify for child care tax credits, according to the Child Care Council of Westchester.
“Making $44,000 is below poverty level,” said board Vice President Emily Rubin Persons. “With this whole pandemic and everyone working from home and all these crazy things going on in our lives, it is clear that child care is so pivotally important. That’s why it is important schools reopen. But for people who have children younger than kindergarten or for people who work longer hours, child care is especially important, and it’s been ignored.”
In July, the House of Representatives passed two bills providing more than $60 billion in direct funding for the child-care industry. One bill, the Child Care is Essential Act, created a $50 billion fund to provide grants to help pay for personnel, sanitation, training and other costs associated with reopening and running a child care facility during the pandemic.
Most recently, Senate Republicans included a provision in their coronavirus relief bill allocating $15 billion for child care providers and grants to help child care centers reopen and follow health and safety guidelines. But no action is expected until the Senate returns to Washington after Labor Day.
The board’s letter to the federal government is addressed to President Donald Trump, U.S. senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Nita Lowey. It stresses the importance of including the Child Care is Essential Act in the next stimulus bill that would support child care businesses across the country.
The draft letters have been shared with other school districts and the Child Care Council of Westchester for additional input.
“We want them to sign on or do something similar,” Grossman said.
The board is expected to formally approve both letters at its meeting on Tuesday. Once approved, links to the letters will be on the board’s advocacy page.
Pleasantville Superintendent of Schools Mary Fox-Alter thanked Grossman.
“I was telling my colleagues that my board was out there pushing this important issue,” Fox-Alter said. “They were super excited to join in.”