Ohio’s investment in kids falls short
Early childhood education helps kids thrive in school, helps parents work, and employs teachers in our still-slow economy. Yet preschool and childcare funding in Ohio seem perpetually stuck in second class.
Children of low-income families here are much less likely to be enrolled in publicly funded preschool or childcare than in other states, our latest report shows. The analysis by Senior Project Director Wendy Patton finds that state funding increased in the 2016-2017 budget. That’s great. But adjusted for inflation, Ohio is behind where it was earlier in the decade. Even counting this year’s funding boost, Ohio still has fewer preschool spaces for low-income kids than other large states. As a result, we’re behind in developing future learners and workers.
The Columbus Dispatch reported on the trend this week, noting that Ohio’s $60 million allocation for early childhood education this year pales in comparison to Illinois ($314 million), Georgia ($321 million) and Michigan ($243 million). Citing a report by the Education Commission of the States, the Dispatch said Ohio ranks 27th in spending out of 45 states and the District of Columbia – pretty pathetic given that we’re the seventh-largest state.
A story in The Cleveland Plain Dealer this week drew attention to the value of preschool. Cleveland children who attend a city school district or county preschool have a 29 percent greater chance of passing third-grade reading requirements, the newspaper reported. That finding came from a study by researchers at Case Western Reserve University and the Ohio Education Research Center.
It seems like a slam dunk. Yet, as our report noted, a paltry 4 percent of Ohio’s low-income 4-year-olds are enrolled in publicly funded preschool, compared to 29 percent nationally.
Preschool or pre-kindergarten describe the enriched learning for 3- and 4-year-olds to prepare them for education, but babies, toddlers and older preschool-aged kids also need quality childcare so that their parents can work. Here, too, Ohio falls short. A much smaller share of low-income parents are eligible for childcare aid than in most other states, Patton’s analysis found. Initial eligibility in Ohio is set at 130 percent of the federal poverty level (about $26,120 a year for a family of three), ninth stingiest among states. Eligibility used to be 200 percent of poverty (about $40,000 for a family of three) and it should be returned to that level to help more working parents.
A higher eligibility standard would also align publicly funded childcare with the standard for publicly funded preschool, which is often just a part-day program. This would give more working parents access to both programs so that young children of all ages have the care and education they need while parents are at work.
Together these programs are essential to strengthen families and help children succeed. We’ve taken some baby steps in the right direction, but we’re still far behind. Ohio has the means to invest. The 2016-2017 budget gave large tax cuts to the wealthiest, constraining the state’s ability to educate and care for our toddlers. It’s a matter of priorities.
-- Harlan Spector
Harlan is Policy Matters communications director.