FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ) – The Kentucky Governor’s Office of Early Childhood (GOEC) will receive nearly $6 million in additional funds from the annual Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) to support high-quality, early experiences for children and families throughout the state.
“This is an education first administration, and these funds will make sure more of our children are ready for kindergarten and are better prepared to succeed in the classroom,” Gov. Andy Beshear said. “The nearly $6 million of additional funds will be infused into local communities so more Kentucky children have the strong start in school and life that all of our children deserve.”
In 1998, state attorneys general and the United States’ largest tobacco companies agreed to a settlement that reimburses states for past tobacco-related costs. Under the MSA, the companies agreed to make annual payments, beginning in 1999 and in perpetuity, worth approximately $208 billion to states and territories, including Kentucky, that are signatories to the agreement.
In Kentucky, 25% of the annual MSA funds are dedicated to early child care and education programs. In 2021, GOEC received $1.4 million of the original MSA allotment, then received an additional $5,994,686 because the 2021 receipts for tobacco products were higher than estimated.
“Over the years, Kentucky has used the MSA to help build a solid education and care system for children from birth through age 5. The 2021 tobacco settlement funds will advance this support by helping us better prepare our early childhood education workforce, invest in data-driven best practices to provide children across the commonwealth with high-quality experiences at a young age and spur innovative programs and best practice strategies at the community level,” said Lt. Gov. Coleman, who is also the secretary of the Education and Workforce Development Cabinet.
GOEC’s Early Childhood Advisory Council (ECAC) will direct the funds to local communities through the Community Early Childhood Councils (CECC) grant program. Local councils apply for grants to increase the quality of experiences for young children to better prepare them for kindergarten. Currently, about 50% of Kentucky’s children are not ready for kindergarten when they start. As a result, many lag behind their peers and some never catch up.
“Kentucky is primed to transform and amplify its work in serving young children, their parents and caregivers. The best way to do that is on the regional and local levels through the Community Early Childhood Councils where caregivers, parents and community partners are directly involved in planning and implementing local solutions,” said Amy Neal, executive director of GOEC.
During the 2000 legislative session, the Kentucky General Assembly unanimously passed House Bill 706. The legislation addressed the needs of Kentucky children, including health care, family assistance and high-quality education and care, and it committed 25% of the annual MSA to support early childhood programs.
The funds support several initiatives including:
- CECCs across the commonwealth that work to make measurable progress toward addressing early childhood development and school readiness goals for the designated service area;
- the Early Childhood Institute that supports the state’s early childhood education workforce;
- KY All STARS, Kentucky’s unified quality rating system; and
- HANDS, the state’s voluntary home visitation program for expectant and new parents.
In 2009, the Governor’s Task Force on Early Childhood Development and Education (ECDE) recommended establishing the Early Childhood Advisory Council (ECAC) and the GOEC to promote an early childhood framework, and partner with Kentucky’s state agencies, communities and families to ensure kindergarten readiness for Kentucky children. The ECAC serves as an umbrella organization that creates better alignment, coordination and efficiencies for the state’s early childhood funds and programs.
Keyonna Gholson, a parent whose child participated in Head Start and who served on her local Head Start Policy Council for five years, has seen the value of early childhood learning. Through her work with Head Start, the Paducah resident decided to become an early childhood educator, received a Child Development Associate and Director’s Credential and now teaches at the Creative Minds Child Development Center. The mother of four already has her five-month-old child on the list to enroll in Early Head Start to ensure a great beginning as soon as possible.
“A lot of parents don’t understand that resources about early learning are available to them, not just teachers and other professionals,” said Gholson. “Even before my child was diagnosed with autism, I learned a lot about his social-emotional development that helped me talk to his teachers and understand his needs. I also learned how to be a proactive parent and advocate for my children. Parents should always ask questions about what is available and reach out to their Community Early Childhood Council to get the resources they need, like Head Start. All you have to do is ask!”
In April, Gov. Beshear signed House Bill 382, which will fund a range of vital initiatives, including full-day kindergarten. He said this bill would help us build a better Kentucky for all families, because “early childhood education is one of the best investments we can make for the commonwealth’s future.”