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Missouri education board approves emergency rule freeing up money to expand child care

Owner Dana Luster, 42, reads to Louis, 3, Grace (in ponytails), 3, and John, 1, on Thursday, March 23, 2023, at Little D’s Home Daycare in Bella Villa.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Owner Dana Luster, 42, reads to Louis, 3, Grace (in ponytails), 3, and John, 1, in March 2023 at Little D’s Home Daycare in Bella Villa.

Missouri’s Board of Education changed a rule this week that had prevented many child care providers from accessing the $26 million in grant funding allocated by lawmakers this year.

The grant money was set aside for community-based child care providers to expand access to pre-kindergarten but included certification requirements that shrank the pool of eligible providers. Around $7 million of that fund has so far been awarded or is expected to be awarded from the September and November rounds of applications.

The Tuesday vote to change the requirements was unanimous, effective immediately, to carry out the goal of expanding access to child care across the state — “a huge priority and a huge need,” said Kari Monsees, Missouri’s deputy education commissioner.

Casey Hanson, director of outreach and engagement at the child advocacy nonprofit Kids Win Missouri, said her organization heard from many providers unable to qualify and worked closely with the department to try to fix the grant’s requirements.

“[The rule change] will really create a better pathway to child care providers being able to access that money,” Hanson said.

Previously, child care providers needed to prove they had a traditional teaching certification, which Hanson said is a “much higher threshold than the national standard.”

“In talking to providers,” Hanson said, “the reason that most of them, even accredited providers in Missouri, can’t qualify for those dollars is because of that teacher qualification piece.”

The rule change expands the qualifications that child care staff can have to be considered eligible for the state funds. That includes allowing teachers who have a bachelor’s or associate’s degree in childhood development to qualify.

The education department’s spokesperson, Mallory McGowin, said it has begun awarding grants in two rounds since September, totaling to just over one-quarter of the total fund.

The first round awarded grants to 51 programs to add 789 child care slots. The second round closed in November and the department expects to award grants to just 28 programs for 568 slots, she said. Those add up to around $7 million to date. The payments haven’t been processed, McGowin said, because “invoice information is currently being verified.”

The department, McGowin said, expects to announce the next round of grants later in December.

This story was originally published by the Missouri Independent, part of the States Newsroom.

Clara Bates covers social services and poverty for The Missouri Independent.