Community college students may soon have a harder time finding child care while they go to school.
In his 2014-15 executive budget proposal, Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed cutting $653,000 from the state’s operating grant to the State University of New York’s child care centers. The cut would come in addition to a reduction in the federal Child Care Block Grant, which subsidizes care for children of needy student-parents.
While the New York State Senate restored Cuomo’s cut in their budget proposal, advocates say the cuts faced by SUNY centers in the last several years are still devastating and need to be restored. And it’s community colleges that will likely see the most damaging consequences.
“Without the state operating aid, centers are challenged with providing services, updated equipment, toys and supplies, keeping fees flat, et cetera,” said Nina Tamrowski, a professor of political science and chair of the social sciences department at Onondaga Community College. “With the reduction in the block grant, which goes directly to needy student parents, they are less able to afford child care for their children and stay in school.”
As such, the Faculty Council of Community Colleges (FCCC) is asking for the community’s help in requesting that more aid be directed to child care centers to help students stay in school. The FCCC issued a resolution in support of that endeavor requesting that the aid be restored, in addition to $1 million to offset the cuts to the Child Care Block Grant.
“Access to quality and affordable child care gives our student parents the opportunity to succeed in college and transform their lives and the lives of their families,” said Dr. Tina Good, president of the FCCC. “Our capacity as community colleges for educating across the generations must be supported if we are sincere in our efforts to improve student success now and in the future.”
Michele Ferguson, who runs the Child Learning Center at OCC, said it’s imperative for students to have adequate child care in order for them to pursue their educations.
“Finding reliable, affordable and accessible child care is a barrier for parents with young children seeking higher education,” Ferguson said. “In the 26 years I have served as the director of the Children’s Learning Center, I have seen that access to education changes lives and that campus child care provides parents the peace of mind and security they need to be academically successful and ultimately earn college degrees.”
Ferguson said OCC’s program enrolls 60 to 70 children of students each year. A total of 5,000 children of student-parents are enrolled in the 32 SUNY child care centers statewide. All of those centers cater to the specific needs of student-parents, unlike other child care centers in the community.
“Our center gives students priority in enrollment of children and offers part-time schedule options that coincide with how students enroll for classes at OCC,” Ferguson said. “While community centers charge parents more for enrolling children part-time — two to three days — we charge the regular daily rate.”
New York has the second highest average cost of child care in the United States. Throughout the Northeast, child care is the highest household cost, exceeding the cost of housing, college tuition, transportation, food, utilities and health care. Meanwhile, statewide, more than 700 income-eligible community college students were turned down for child care subsidies due to limited funding, forcing some to drop out of school.
Ferguson fears more students will face that choice if funding isn’t restored.
“If the funds are not restored each campus will experience a decrease of 40 to 50 percent of what they were awarded in this fiscal year,” she said. “Centers will then have to make difficult decisions as to where to make up for the shortfall They may have to increase child care fees; change enrollment policies; or be forced to decrease the number of student parents in favor of private paying or community families.”
Though the state senate has restored funding in its one-house budget, the state assembly has yet to pass a budget. The FCCC encourages members of the public to help by sending letters and emails and calling the following legislators:
State Sen. John A. DeFrancisco
50th Senate District Office
800 State Office Building
333 East Washington Street
Syracuse, NY 13202
State Sen. David J. Valesky
53rd Senate District Office
333 East Washington Street, Room 805
Syracuse, NY 13202
You can also contact your state assemblyman; contact information can be found at assembly.state.ny.us/mem/. Enter your zip code in the “Member Search” box on the right. Letters should be sent as soon as possible, as the state must pass its budget by April 1.
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.