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Chambliss Center for Children President and CEO Phil Acord sits to the left of Ivanka Trump in the White House. Acord said he participated in a roundtable discussion with Trump about national child care policies, and Trump wanted to know more about Chambliss' program.

It was a tumultuous week in political news with the testimony of the president's former lawyer and the Vietnam Summit collapsing, but Chambliss Center for Children President and CEO Phil Acord had a much different story to tell from the nation's capital.

Acord was in Washington, D.C., on Monday for the National Association for the Education of Young Children's public policy forum when he got an unexpected invitation to the White House to meet with Ivanka Trump and 14 other child care leaders from across the country.

Acord said he thought about the offer for "all of one second" before accepting. He said the Chambliss Center often gets national recognition for its child care model, specifically, its program that operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week and 365 days a year, serving low-income children with many coming from single-parent households.

"I didn't know that much about (Ivanka) prior to this meeting, but she is very well-spoken and obviously very smart and concerned about working families, single parents and mothers," Acord said in a phone interview after the meeting.

Trump posted about the discussion on Twitter afterward with a photo showing Acord sitting just to the left of her in the Roosevelt Room. Acord said he took Trump's name tag after the meeting as a keepsake — with permission, of course — which identified the president's daughter as "Advisor to the President."

The National Association for the Education of Young Children helped organize the roundtable at the White House by inviting some members. The organization's CEO, Rhian Evans Allvin, said the discussion gave experts in the field the opportunity to share information and ideas on how to best achieve increased access to high-quality child care.

"We are looking forward to growing the bipartisan federal and state investments in high-quality child care that keep families working while their children learn and thrive," she said.

Trump's role in the White House has been controversial since her father became president, but she has spent much of her time focusing on child care and family policies that affect working families. Acord said those invited to the roundtable mostly shared with her information about their programs, and they discussed the reauthorization of funds for the Child Care and Development Block Grant.

Last year, bipartisan legislation was passed to provide an additional $5.8 billion to the grant, but the historic investment was only authorized for two years in the budget with $2.9 billion getting doled out to states each year.

Tennessee received $66.9 million in the 2018-2019 fiscal year with 4,130 additional children estimated to receive child care from it. Acord said the money has yet to be dispersed to child care providers in the state, but that Trump told those at the roundtable she would work hard to get funding for additional years.

"That was very good to hear because we are nervous when we get an allocation like that and it's only good for two years," Acord explained. "You begin to build your infrastructure and give pay raises, but then all of the sudden if the money disappears then you are in real financial trouble."

In Tennessee, parents pay $5,857 annually for an infant in child care and $4,515 for a 4-year-old, National Association for the Education of Young Children figures state. Twenty-one percent of children ages 0 to 5 live in low-income families and 20,000 children receive child care assistance per month, on average.

Acord said he's advocating that some of the grant money be used to increase the reimbursement rates for child care providers. Currently, Chambliss only receives $159 a week from the state per infant they care for, but taking care of an infant can cost more like $250 per week. He said the state is looking at increasing the reimbursement rate by about 35 percent for younger children and 20 percent for older children.

"The agencies are anxiously awaiting the state figuring out how they are going to distribute this money, so we can start increasing the salaries for our staff and helping them get the credentials and hopefully stabilizing what parents have to pay," he said.

Chambliss Center officials said earlier this year that they are paying for all of their educators to earn a "Child Development Associate" credential, or CDA.

The state recently revised the standards for child care centers, and now, at least one educator in each classroom must have a current CDA credential if the center wants to maintain or receive a three-star quality rating, which is the highest rating in the state and Chambliss currently holds a three-star rating.

A more skilled workforce also translates into higher pay. About 53 percent of the child care workforce in Tennessee receives public benefits, National Association for the Education of Young Children reports.

The grant also raised the ceiling on what families are eligible for subsidies. Previously, no family of two receiving more than $27,000 a year was eligible, but now families of two that earn around $40,000 a year can get help.

"The bottom line is you want a higher eligibility and higher reimbursement rate," Acord said. "With more revenue in your budget you can take that money and pass it onto your staff."

Contact staff writer Allison Shirk Collins at ashirk@timesfreepress.com, @AllisonSCollins or 423-757-6651.

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