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Day Care Troubles

April 24, 1998
By: Samantha Young
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Gov. Mel Carnahan's day care in schools proposal may be in trouble. With only three weeks left in the session and the Senate has yet to iron their differences about the bill.

Carnahan's proposal would provide state funds for day care services in schools for three-to-five-year olds. About $20 million to $22 million of that funding would come from casino taxes.

The House approved the proposal in February as part of a veterans bill, but the Senate has yet to take action. The session concludes May 15.

"I think everyone basically supports the concept," said Majority Floor Leader Ed Quick, D-Liberty. "I think we have a problem with funding."

At the forefront of opposition in the Senate has been Sen. Ken Jacob, D-Columbia, who said he is hesitant to see a huge pot of money go toward an untested program.

"We don't have the money to take of children in schools now and we want to start a whole new program," Jacob said. "If there is anything we should be giving money to its to parents to stay home and educate children."

If the Senate does approve the bill, Jacob said the money might not be there in the future.

"We should wait until after the election," Jacob said. "If there are no boats in moats how are we going to fund this. People have their head in the sand over this issue."

The questionable funds would come from the casino taxes that Carnahan has claimed for his program. However, the state Supreme Court decision against moat-based boats has raised a question as to how much gambling money will continue to flow into state coffers.

Senate Republican Leader Steve Elhmann, proposes giving tax deductions for day-care costs, rather than setting up a new state program.

"We'd love to go ahead and let people keep more their money," said Elhmann, R-St. Charles. "Let's increase the deductions for dependents, we haven't done that in 40 years."

If the bill does make it to the floor in the next three weeks, Jacob said he has some amendments of his own to add.

"I have an amendment that takes money and puts it into a general education fund that can be used for zero to college," Jacob said. "I also have an amendment that decreases the amount the early childhood education program gets to $3 million over five years."

Jacob said his last amendment is geared to set up day care at a few schools through out the state to test the program.

"I don't have a problem with starting out on a limited scale," Jacob said. "I want to make sure it works. Let's not jump in there with $30 million."

Elhmann also said he plans to voice strong opposition on the floor if the majority brings the bill to debate.

"Are we talking about expanding government to babysit our children or are we talking about education," Elhmann said.

When asked if he plans on stalling the measure in the Senate, Jacob said he is always "prepared to go to the limits of his senatorial prerogative." Jacob is was one of the lead Senators whose extensive debate blocked a vote on the tax bill last week that would have given tax credits to parents who send their children to private schools.

Quick expressed some hope for the bill and said the day care issue is one that could possibly come together at the last moment.

"We're getting so close to the end of the session that it will have to come together," Quick said.

The governor's office, however, is not worried about the bill's future and expects debate to begin sometime this week, said Brad Ketcher, chief of staff.

If the day care in schools bill does not pass the legislature, the budget contains about $50 million that contains Carnahan's other day-care initiatives.

"A major part of the money is in the budget that is excellent shape to be approved by both houses," Ketcher said.

The budget portion of the governor's proposals would expand the number of day care slots, create scholarships for day care workers, improve reimbursements for regulated facilities to become more qualified, increase funding for the parents as teachers programs, and establish testing for early childhood development.