Tennessee to fund employer-sponsored child care with new grant program – WKRN News 2

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Applications are now open for state-funded grants aimed at making child care more accessible in Tennessee.

According to a report from the Tennessee Child Care Task Force, child care demand significantly outpaces supply in the state. In fact, almost half of Tennessee families live in a childcare desert.

A desert is an area with more than 50 children under the age of 5 that contains either no licensed child care providers, or such few options that there are more than three times as many children as licensed child care slots. The report also found that many programs also do not fit working parents’ schedules.

“One of the biggest challenges is creating child care capacity, specifically where there’s child care need,” said Assistant Commissioner for Child Care and Community Services Jude White. “Because we can talk very broadly about, yes, we need more child care in our state, but we feel that there’s a better chance of success if we can bring the the supply and demand closer together more in alignment.”

The Tennessee Department of Human Services (TDHS) is asking non-profit child care providers to propose ideas on how to partner with businesses that are aiming to expand child care availability for that employer’s workforce.

The opportunity is made available through the child care improvement fund, which is a three year pilot that allocates $15 million per year in state funding to support child care provided through non-profits.

“Some childcare providers in Tennessee operate as just private-for-profit businesses, others operate as a nonprofit organization, so it really just depends on the business structure of the provider,” explained White. “So, specifically, this child care improvement fund is focused on nonprofit organizations.”

Potential strategies could include using the company’s existing facilities, the employer agreeing to pay for an allotted number of new child care slots, or new construction or renovation for child care onsite.

One example of this kind of partnership is in West Tennessee. Tyson Foods officially opened a new employer-sponsored child care facility last year near the company’s poultry processing complex in Humboldt. It supports more than 100 children who are aged five and under.

“This is a win-win-win situation because it grows the capacity for high quality accessible childcare in our state,” said White. “It gives the employer a great tool for attracting and retaining their workforce, and it really helps the childcare provider be more financially stable and sustainable going forward.”

The grant application has a rolling deadline, and White explained that TDHS also created a specific pre-licensure unit to help people who want to provide child care services.

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“This is a dedicated team of our staff across the state, whose sole job is to engage with local communities, employers, and entrepreneurs who are thinking about starting a childcare agency,” she said. “This team will talk with them about their plans, they’ll do orientation, explain the licensing process, connect them with resources, like Small Business Academy, so they really get off to a strong start.”

She added that there are also establishment grants for those agencies to get help opening their doors with less debt.

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