The Florida Keys will have 46 fewer spots at subsidized childcare centers this year due to the state's new funding formula that cut some $206,000 from Monroe County's previous take, social service leaders said Wednesday.
If the state keeps the new formula intact, within six years Monroe County will have lost $1.6 million and spots for 359 children.
"This is not a one-year blip," said Doug Blomberg, CEO of Wesley House Family Services, which provides subsidized child care throughout the Keys. "This is a continuing piece of funding."
Blomberg was among the nonprofit and social services leaders who gathered Wednesday in Key West for an advisory committee meeting of the Early Learning Coalition of Miami-Dade/Monroe, one of 31 such agencies in Florida that supports affordable early education and voluntary pre-kindergarten.
In attendance was County Commissioner Heather Carruthers, who recently sponsored a resolution, approved by the Board of County Commissioners, that urges the state to restore the funding.
The state Office of Early Learning altered its funding formula that divvies up childcare subsidies to the 67 counties in response to a state Auditor General's report last December that determined the existing formula wasn't fair.
However the results of the new funding system, which took effect July 1, have given more money to counties that had a budget surplus of tax dollars last year and no waiting list for families, while leaving Miami-Dade and Monroe counties with a deep cut.
County nonprofit leaders throughout Florida had no role in the new funding mechanism.
"This is not good people versus bad people," Evelio Torres, CEO of the Early Learning Coalition of Miami-Dade/Monroe. said Wednesday. "This is just not having enough money in the system. Childcare providers need to plan for having fewer children in the program. This is a trickle-down effect."
In Monroe County the cuts will mean 46 fewer slots for children ages 0-5 and providers expect to have to start a wait list, something that hasn't existed in the Keys in several years.
"We had $3.7 million more than we have this year," said Torres. "We are going to be able to serve fewer than 1,000 children."
If the funding formula remains in place, Monroe County will lose over $1.6 million in childcare subsidies over the next six years. The two-county total loss will exceed $22 million.
"It's sort of a slow death that we're starting to feel," Torres said.
The subsidies work out to about $3,400 per year for one child's care at a preschool-type center, a figure that doesn't begin to cover the entire annual bill. The subsidies are only available to working families through the Florida Office of Early Learning, which disperses the money to each of the 67 counties.
School Readiness, however, is a federal program designed to help needy families pay for child care.
Dan Dombroski, executive director of the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Keys, said the latest funding cut follows a continuing trend.
"Both at the federal and state level they're saying, 'These are your kids. You find the money to take care of this,'" said Dombroski, whose nonprofit is grappling with a reduction from the city of Key West. "They've shifted that arena of responsibility from a state and federal level to the laps of the local government."
The final number of working families left out in the cold by this cut remains unknown, he said.
Torres urged the providers Wednesday to lobby the state to change the formula.
"This is serious; we have to at least try," he said. "I can tell you there is a provider from Miami-Dade who has hired an airplane with one of those banners in the back that requests the dollars be restored. This impacts a lot of small businesses, jobs and communities."