Please Put Our Children First in the State of Ohio’s Budget

John Jones

By John Jones, HOPE Toledo President
Guest Column

Over the past two years, a broad group of organizations and individuals have been working collectively together to lift up and bring to life a “comprehensive, community-based approach” to early childcare and education here in Toledo, Ohio.

This group “the HOPE Toledo Pre-K Advisory Council” represents early childhood education providers, parents, the childcare resource and referral agency, health and human service agencies, business leaders, faith-based entities, government and public sector leadership, higher education professionals, local school districts, labor leadership, the philanthropic community and many more.  This effort represents a real watershed moment in Toledo, as it has sustained with a laser like focus on one thing – putting our children first.

The goal and vision we established was to ensure every Toledo child is prepared for kindergarten and subsequent successful school performance.  This goal is supported through various efforts, one in particular is the presence of Step Up To Quality.  So much work has been done locally and across the state to ensure providers are effectively participating in the drive toward the provision of high quality for our children.  Step Up To Quality has become the foundation from which early education builds.

It then should come as no surprise, our extreme disappointment over the Ohio Senate’s proposal to dismantle Step Up To Quality and restrict the use of federal child care funds that can be used to improve and strengthen our quality child care system. Ohio legislators are woefully lacking in foresight by denying the state’s youngest children the opportunity to reach their full potential.

We know the first five years of a child’s life are the most critical for a child’s development.  The research indicates that investing in our children during these critical and formative years produces a return up to 10 times that investment (according to the “Economic Analysis of Expanding Eligibility for Early Care and Education Programs in Ohio” by the University of Cincinnati’s Economics Center).

Further, this proposal by the Senate will directly impact businesses and employers, desperately striving to get employees back into the workforce.  These employees are mothers, fathers and caregivers for our children, who without Step Up To Quality, won’t be able to get back to work, and child care providers (many of whom are small business owners) will struggle to keep their doors open and continue serving their communities.  The harm done to these small business owners could prove to be irreparable and further widen the disparate gap in wealth and knowledge for communities already ravaged by years of disinvestment.

What is most concerning is the impact this proposal would have on Ohio’s most vulnerable children. Without Step Up To Quality, the disparities we already see across the sector will be exacerbated and given the impetus to grow.  These children do not have equitable access to high quality childcare like their higher income peers. Step Up To Quality helps level the playing field and gives children the quality early education they need to be ready for school and life. Every infant and toddler – regardless of their race, their family’s income, or the ZIP code in which they live – deserves access to quality early childhood education.

On behalf of our most precious asset – our youngest children – we strongly urge Senator Gavarone, Senator Fedor and the entire State legislature to revert to the House version of House Bill 110 as it relates to childcare.

Our children’s future – Toledo and Ohio’s future – depends on what we do today.  Now more than ever, we must put our children first by investing in and supporting their education and future.  The failure to do this will result in unintended consequences which will cost us much more in the decades to come.

Ed. Note: Step Up to Quality is a quality rating system administered by the Ohio Department of Education and the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, which seeks to maintain program standards that lead to kindergarten readiness. They also incentivize child care facilities to keep up their standards in order to receive state support.

The standards include a minimum amount of time that lead teachers interact with children, the skills that teachers and employees have in the facilities and curriculum standards.

Participants in a virtual call hosted by early learning advocacy group Groundwork Ohio said removing these standards could lead to drastic reductions in child care quality and a lack of focus on the future workforce in the state.