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Lawmaker: Pre-K allows double billing

Under the new law, Florida would pay for services that a federal program covers.

By Associated Press
Published December 27, 2004

FORT LAUDERDALE - Private companies that are paid by the federal government to provide child care for low-income families could also bill the state for the same services because of a loophole in the recently passed prekindergarten law.

The loophole was pointed out by Rep. Loranne Ausley, D-Tallahassee. She said she wants to ensure during the Legislature's general session that the state program prohibits companies from milking the system.

"If they are providing the same number of hours per day, they shouldn't be paid twice unless they're providing more quality," Ausley said.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services pays child care providers to serve working parents with incomes at or below 150 percent of poverty level. When Florida's pre-K program goes into effect, the providers could charge the state an additional fee for each 4-year-old without providing any additional services.

The Florida Partnership for School Readiness, the office that handles federal money for low-income families, was examining the problem and could change the way it allocates government money once the state begins its pre-K program, interim executive director Gladys Wilson said.

"We're going to make sure schools do the right thing," Wilson said.

The Legislature, directed by voters in 2002 to provide high-quality education classes for 4-year-olds, passed a pre-K program earlier this month in a special session. Legislators haven't said how much providers could charge per child, though it is estimated to be about $2,000 to $3,000.

Any additional money would enhance Florida's pre-K program, child-care providers said, giving companies a greater incentive to create programs for low-income parents and making it easier to upgrade services and employ quality staff.

Danny Morris, president of the Florida Association for Child Care Management, said subsidized care has never been a big moneymaker.

Morris owns three child-care centers that serve low-income families, and on average the subsidized parents pay only 75 to 80 percent of what other parents do, he said.

"There's not going to be any windfall," Morris said when asked about Ausley's concerns.

Grace Geller, executive director of Children's Carousel in Weston, doesn't have any subsidized children in her programs. But if the government provided more money, she said she would be more interested in seeking them out.

"It certainly would come into my thinking if I can get a fair fee for what I provide," Geller said.

[Last modified December 27, 2004, 00:57:19]


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