More than 1,000 Miami-Dade children may be evicted from their child-care programs — and thousands more may be added to an already burgeoning wait list — as Florida early-learning administrators cut millions from a county program that provides subsidized child care for working poor and needy families.
The cutbacks, part of a statewide effort to redistribute dwindling child-care dollars among the state’s 67 counties, already have resulted in a $3.7 million reduction in funding this year in Miami-Dade as part of a $22.3 million cumulative cut over the next six years. The reductions have outraged Miami children’s advocates, who fear struggling families will be forced to leave young children home alone in order to keep their jobs.
“Leaving these children alone would be devastating, and I would probably see their parents in court,” said Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Cindy Lederman, a 16-year veteran of the child-welfare bench and vice chair of the county’s Early Learning Coalition.
“The school-readiness funding is a win-win for the social and emotional development of young children, and it enables their parents to work,” Lederman added. “If we remove the funding, both the children and their parents will suffer.”
The vast majority of parents whose child-care bills are paid by the state are considered “working poor” — meaning they are employed, but do not earn enough income to pay for a child-care center or babysitter. Most of the children in the program are below age 5. Currently, 23,000 Miami-Dade and Monroe families pay for their child’s pre-school bill with money provided by the Early Learning Coalition.
In a July 13 letter to Gov. Rick Scott’s chief of staff, Adam Hollingsworth, the chairman of the Miami-Dade Early Learning Coalition, Octavio A. Verdeja, Jr., warned that, as a result of the cutbacks, some families “will either have to quit their jobs or leave their children in what could be unsafe care.”
“The overall impact of the reduction,” Verdeja said, “is that 6,000 fewer children will be served in a county with a waiting list of over 17,000 children ages 0-5.”
Trakeya Martin, whose 1-year-old daughter is enrolled in a pre-school program at Liberty Academy Day Care in Miami, said her child already has benefited from the program in the year she has been there. “She already knows her ABCs, she loves to sing songs, and she has really good hand-eye coordination,” Martin said. “If they don’t have that education, they will get left behind,” Martin added.
The spending cuts are part of a six-year statewide effort aimed at redistributing the state’s $1.2 billion subsidized child-care budget among early-learning administrators throughout the state. A December 2011 state Auditor General report suggested the new funding formula, recommending that disparities across county lines be eliminated, and that counties with the largest percentage of wait-listed children be given more dollars.
Though Miami-Dade and Monroe counties are facing serious cutbacks, other counties will see increases in funding, including Broward, which will get $348,000 in new dollars this year. Other large counties facing cutbacks include Hillsborough, facing a $1 million reduction, and Duval, which stands to lose $193,000, the Miami Early Learning Coalition’s director, Evelio Torres, said at a board meeting Tuesday morning.