COVID-19 continues to disrupt almost every facet of life, but one issue brought to the forefront during the pandemic is the lack of childcare options, particularly in rural areas, such as Johnson County. The county is blessed with two state licensed daycare centers – In the Beginning Lighthouse of Love and Laugher and Promises Academy. There are also school-based centers; however, it remains uncertain as to when they will be able to reopen.
There are some childcare bills advancing through the state legislature to alleviate the lack of childcare choices in rural Tennessee; however, many Johnson County parents are left wondering when, and if, help will ever materialize. One such bill, Tennessee House Bill 2689, sponsored by Rep. Timothy Hill, also known as the “Parents’ Day Out” bill, authorizes programs operated by a religious institution or similar organization to provide 12-hour per week child care services in whatever block of time desired; requires the department of human services to create a $10 million fund to provide unlicensed care providers in rural counties with assistance in making facility upgrades for licensure; allows care providers in rural counties to provide child care for up to 10 children without being licensed if certain conditions are met.
“This bill is so important for our county,” said Brittany Dula, parent and School Library Media Specialist. “It appropriates money to help in-home childcare professionals to upgrade their homes to meet the state requirements.” It also permits certain preschools to operate three days a week rather than two. “Under the current law they can attend two days a week for six hours,” explained Dula. “This bill allows church preschool programs to appropriate the 12 hours as they feel it best helps their community.”
Local resident and mom, Sally Snyder, has fought for legislative attention to the matter for several months and spoken to senators, representatives and has even spoke with Tennessee Gov Bill Lee governor regarding the need for more daycare options for the state’s working parents. Snyder encourages parents to contact our legislators about this issue. “It’s time that the very northeast corner of Tennessee be remembered in Nashville,” said Snyder. “We matter. We aren’t trying to be selfish. We are fighting for every rural county in Tennessee. This affects many from Mountain City to Memphis.”
House Bill 2689, as proposed, also authorizes care providers in counties with a population of less than 50,000 to provide child care for five or more, but no more than 10, children without being licensed if the care provider receives a signed waiver from a parent of each child stating they are aware the care provider is not licensed. This bill requires the department to create the waiver form and make it available on the department’s website. This bill specifies that prior to providing care for a number of children that would normally require licensure, the care provider must certify that each staff member has completed at least 10 hours of childcare training on topics chosen by the department. This bill requires that the care provider adhere to adult to child ratios set by the department and required of licensed childcare agencies. Tennessee Senate companion Bill SB2777, sponsored by Sen. Mike Bell, is co-sponsored by Sen. Jon Lundberg.
In the meantime, several organizations are wondering how to assist their communities by providing care for children whose schools are closed due to COVID-19 precautions. In light of the emerging need for temporary childcare, the Tennessee Department of Human Services is providing guidance for families and organizations as they consider providing group care for school-aged children. If you wish to provide emergency childcare to support your community’s response to COVID-19, please call 1-800-462-8261 or visit https://www.tn.gov/humanservices.