How much can the tax money Kansas might spend on child care help?

Paying for construction is just one part of expansion. Next comes teacher pay, more food and continuing costs.

by Blaise Mesa


  • It isn’t cheap to expand child care slots in Kansas. Even if businesses get help to expand, more expenses are coming. 
  • The state government, and Gov. Laura Kelly, have proposals to address shortages. 
  • There is growing optimism that Kansas can address this issue. 

There’s only enough child care in Kansas for about half of the state’s children — an estimated need of 85,000 slots with less than 40,000 currently up and running. 

So the state cobbled together COVID relief funds and other taxpayer dollars to create a $55 million pool of money to help expand child care. That money’s helped, but it’s drying up fast and more and more providers want state help to expand capacity. 

“We’re seeing a crisis,” said Will Averill, the director of development and communities at a child care center in Lawrence. 

Now the state is considering a handful of proposals to fix the shortage. 

Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly wants to spend another $30 million on grants for day care operators to expand. But the $55 million the state has already spent added only 5,500 child care openings. 

Even so, the money matters. Consider what’s happening in Douglas County.

Averill, with the Community Children’s Center, said a mix of local and state funds is helping that operation add 138 child care slots in a county that needs 3,000 spaces. The facility will also train new staff and stay open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“Right now,” he said, 24/7 day care “is almost nonexistent in our community.” 

Averill said child care can be especially hard to afford because parents don’t save up for it like they would with college, though both can cost thousands of dollars a year. 

The governor’s request to spend another $30 million would direct that money to pay for construction of more child care space. 

When the state offered up $55 million for similar work, it got requests for $118 million from various applicants. Another grant focused on construction had $38 million to try and meet $150 million in requests.  

But the people who study and offer early child care said the money will only go so far.

The center in Lawrence, for example, got $9.3 million and is still hoping to raise another $650,000. And a larger building means more kids, which means more expenses and hiring more staff. 

Some small providers have told The Beacon that operating a center is their dream, but they worry about taking on the additional debt without the promise of additional profit. Providers can’t charge more, even though their budgets are tight, because parents can’t afford to pay more. 

“We know there’s something missing within the system that can help support the early childhood infrastructure,” said Kim Polson, the executive director of the expanding center in Douglas County. 

Polson and other providers say the current budget proposals are more of an important step than an ultimate solution

Helping providers will require more than just expanding centers. The state has pilot programs to help expand infant slots, programs that help open a smaller center that fits the size of the community and a few other budget proposals from the governor. 

Kelly wants to spend $5 million to start a child care pilot program in northwest Kansas. That’s in addition to her request to add $15 million to a sustainability fund to help keep providers open. 

Kelly also wants to give around 3,500 home day care centers about $4,000 apiece. 

Evelyn Easum has been in the child care business since 1968. She said her in-home center in Lawrence could use that grant money to fix some floors and the bathrooms. Easum would also fix up the playground area, which means replacing rubber mulch with rubber pavers and replacing a few swings. But paying for that is “very pricey.” 

Giving providers sustainability money doesn’t guarantee that these providers expand, but this money is trying to keep those places from closing and taking away spots. 

Melissa Rooker, executive director of the Kansas Children’s Cabinet and Trust Fund, said she’s optimistic about the future of child care. The state could soon see a centralized office for child care, which means parents and providers have one place to go to ask questions. Currently, a parent needing help getting a child care subsidy or a provider trying to get licensed could have to call several state offices. 

She said expanding and sustaining child care are hard for multiple reasons. 

“It’s an all hands on deck situation,” Rooker said. “People need to recognize that every one of us, we’re all early childhood stakeholders. We all have a role to play.”