BROOKSVILLE — Caught between a tight budget and a roomful of angry child care providers and parents, the governing board of the Early Learning Coalition of Hernando and Pasco Counties on Monday delayed a decision on whether to cut child care subsidies for older children from low-income families.
Some board members said they agree that limited funding for the agency's school readiness program will force them to lower the eligibility age. The agency, whose mission statement is to "prepare children in our counties to enter and succeed in school," currently provides subsidies for kids from birth through age 12.
But board members said they wanted more information on how coalitions in other counties have gone about doing that.
"I think there has to be a cut in the age, but I'd like to see a plan in place for the transitioning … so the least amount of people are impacted," board member Steven Kanakis said.
James Farrelly, the nonprofit organization's executive director, said he would bring back a specific age recommendation and a plan to the next board meeting on May 27. Farrelly had warned that continuing the subsidies at the current level could result in a waiting list of 2,000 children by next year — and many of those will be the youngest children who need the services the most.
The decision would not affect school-age children who are in protective custody or whose families receive welfare payments. The working poor, however, would have to find other arrangements, most of which are costlier than the sliding fee they now pay.
During a tense public comment period Monday, about 20 people pleaded with the board not to cut the program so that parents won't be forced to quit their jobs or leave children at home who aren't ready for the responsibility. Child care center owners also said the cut could force them to lay off staffers.
Of the 31 coalitions statewide, only 13 offer care through age 12.