SPRING HILL — The Pasco Hernando Early Learning Coalition voted unanimously Thursday to pare the subsidies for after-school care, freeing up money for younger children's services.
The plan will phase out the subsidies for low-income children ages 9 to 12. Those children will be allowed to stay in their programs until Jan. 1. No new older children, however, will be accepted after July 1.
Exemptions will include children in protective custody, those with special needs and those whose parents receive welfare payments.
Officials said the move was necessary to free money for child care and school readiness services for children under age 5, the Early Learning Coalition's target group.
"This board has a choice," executive director Jim Farrelly said. "Accept the tough decision to reduce the age range or accept a long waiting list."
Farrelly said with no change, the waiting list would be expected to be upward of 2,000 during 2010-11.
The reason for the age change boils down to money. The coalition was propped up last year with federal stimulus money, but will operate with $1.6 million less this fiscal year as that funding source dries up.
Farrelly said the nonprofit agency made other changes before turning to these cuts. It established a waiting list for child care, used attrition to cut coalition staff, froze administrative spending, carried over as much stimulus money as possible and sought additional grants.
"It's a financial issue," Farrelly said. "I wish it wasn't, but at this point we have to find a way to deal with children whose parents are most frequently knocking on our doors."
Board members met last month to discuss a change, but after angry parents and providers showed up, decided to wait until they could get more information. A task force of board members and providers was then formed to come up with a solution.
Farrelly explained after the meeting that the task force recommended the cutoff age of 9 because experts say that's the time when children "stop learning to read and start reading to learn."
Child care providers who spoke didn't object to the deal. However, Shane Harris asked for a re-examination when the economy improves.
"I ask that we open the age range back up should the monies become available in the future," he said.
What options are available for older kids who need an after-school program?
Farrelly said the Boys and Girls Clubs in Port Richey and Lacoochee and YMCA of the Suncoast are possible choices. He also said some day care centers may offer multichild discounts so parents with a younger child and an older child might be able to keep them in the same place.
The Boys and Girls Clubs provide transportation from school, snacks and activities from 2 to 6 p.m. on school days, plus full-day programs on school holidays. The cost per semester ranges from $200 to $300 on a sliding scale. A summer program also is offered.
The YMCA of the Suncoast serves 75 subsidized children ages 9 to 12. Parents can seek financial help from the Y, which has a policy not to turn anyone away due to an inability to pay.
Lisa Buie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4604.