Legislature tackles early childhood education, child support and abortion

Published 12:19 pm Tuesday, February 27, 2024

This week, state legislators are addressing several issues that impact Kentucky kids and prospective mothers.

A wide-ranging, $300 million bill looking to save the Commonwealth from a federal funding cliff for early childhood education got a committee vote.

The same committee heard another bill that would provide child support beginning at conception, and one Republican representative filed a limited abortion exception bill.

Early childhood education

Kentucky is approaching an early childhood education funding cliff as federal dollars expire with the end of pandemic emergency measures.

Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Benton, is sponsoring the Horizons Act, which includes a variety of programs and grants to support current early education centers and incentivize the creation of more.

“We as a state can decide to fall into the pit that the other states are falling in, or we can stand up and set the example for the rest of this country to follow,” Carroll said.

“…We start looking at education at birth, and we invest in these youngest students. We can invest in our economy to make sure that families like this are able to go back to work to meet our workforce needs.”

Carroll estimated that implementing the bill would cost $300 million, but the appropriation is not attached to the bill, per Senate leadership’s request.

Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said that they prefer for bills to establish a framework and for the associated funding to come through the separate budget process.

The bill would create a new associate’s degree through Kentucky’s community college system for interdisciplinary early childhood education entrepreneurship. Graduates of the program would be able to open their own centers across childcare deserts.

The Horizons Act would make that degree eligible for Kentucky’s Work Ready Scholarships, designed for key sectors of the state’s economy.

Several funds are created or continued through the proposed bill, including:

  • the Innovations in Early Childhood Education Delivery Program Fund, which provides up to $150,000 grants to people and groups with non-traditional ideas for ECE programs;
  • the Foundations for Early Learning Fund, which gives centers a certain amount of money per enrolled child;
  • the Family Early Childhood Education Provider Fund, which issues grants to traditional family childcare homes; and
  • the Early Childhood Education Provider Startup Fund, which offers grants to new providers.

It also clarifies that Kentuckians qualify for the Child Care Assistance Program if their family income is less than 85% of the state median income. If there are funds available, the state will cover centers’ mandatory background checks.

Tuesday, the Senate Families and Children committee voted to approve the Horizons Act 9-1. Sen. Lindsey Tichenor, R-Smithfield, was the lone no vote.

Tichenor said that the legislation might run into the same hurdles that attempted school choice legislation has met in recent years, since early childhood education centers have educational curriculums.

Senate President Robert Stivers said that he thinks that the legislature will pass a bill addressing the looming childcare crisis, but doesn’t know whether Carroll’s bill will be the one.

“Everybody knows we want to do something in a childcare realm, It’s just nobody agrees on what it will look like,” Stivers said.

Child support

The Senate committee also voted on another bill that would allow mothers to collect child support from conception.

Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Fruit Hill, is sponsoring Senate Bill 110. It would allow mothers who file a child support order within a year of a child’s birth to retroactively collect child support beginning nine months before a child’s birth.

There is a complication, Westerfield said. After talking with the County Attorneys Association, he discovered that county attorneys’ child support enforcement is entirely funded by the federal government, which has specific rules.

One of those rules bans collection before a child is born. Therefore, if this bill passed, the county attorneys would have to foot the bill themselves. Westerfield said that he did not know how much it might cost, or how many claims there might be.

“At the end of the day, I’m willing to support it even not having that information because that child has a human life and the support obligation begins as soon as that life begins,” he said.

The bill passed unanimously, and heads to the Senate floor.


Citing concern for his two daughters, Rep. Ken Fleming, R-Louisville, filed an abortion exception bill Monday.

House Bill 711 would allow abortions in cases of rape or incest within six weeks of the beginning of a pregnant person’s last menstrual cycle.

It also would clarify that abortions to remove dead unborn fetuses, ectopic pregnancies or incomplete miscarriages are legal.

A lethal fetal abnormality would also be acceptable grounds for abortion.

Physicians who perform abortions through the rape or incest exceptions would have to record their reasoning for believing that the fetus’ gestational age is six weeks or less.

Stivers said that there have been caucus wide and smaller group discussions for months surrounding abortion exceptions.

He added that there may be future legislation explicitly protecting Kentuckians’ access to in-vitro fertilization, a medical procedure in which an egg is fertilized outside of the body.

This comes after an Alabama court ruled last week that frozen embryos are legally children, and IVF clinics swiftly began shutting down.

Stivers said that the legislature may use a shell bill for this, as filing deadlines approach.

“I think because of the ruling in Alabama, that has created some additional discussion, because I don’t think anybody wants to impede in vitro fertilization,” he said. “I’ve heard people that may be very strict right leaning pro-lifers in the legislature looking at bills to make sure that in vitro fertilization is not put at risk.”

Tuesday afternoon, Sen. Cassie Chambers Armstrong, D-Louisville, filed a bill to preemptively protect IVF providers from criminal liability.