Fixing the the child care crisis won’t be easy and advocates say it is not going to happen without an increase in public funding to help child care and preschool providers, and the families that need them.
“It’s going to cost money. There is no way of doing this without investing in this. Sometimes that makes people squeamish but we have to be willing to invest in creating a quality early learning environment for our kids and for parents to (be able to) come to work,” said Robyn Lightcap, executive director of Dayton and Montgomery County Preschool Promise.
“You talk to any parent with a young child and they know how dire it is.”
Credit: Knack Video + Photo
Credit: Knack Video + Photo
It is not that public money isn’t going into child care and preschool. Federal, state and local governments and school districts do allocate funds for child care and preschool.
For example, Springfield City Schools has a free preschool serving about 500 children, as well as a low-cost fee-based after school program used by 200 kids.
“When you look at a community like Springfield where you have such extreme poverty and many of the societal issues that we face as a state and a nation, we are better off being able to bring kids into a warm, safe, controlled environment that provides one or two meals a day, depending on the program that you are in, and provides them with the additional support and enrichment that is necessary,” said Springfield Schools Superintendent Bob Hill.
Federal and state funding help
The federal government has long funded Head Start’s early childhood education programs, but at a level that does not allow every eligible child to enroll.
The biggest infusion of new federal money came from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), the COVID-relief bill approved by Congress in March 2021 that sent $24 billion in funding nationwide to help more than 200,000 child care providers remain open to serve about 9.5 million children, according to Seth Schuster, regional spokesman for the White House.
President Joe Biden’s 2024 budget calls for increased federal funding for child care, including Head Start, and free preschool, but that plan faces an uphill battle in a politically-divided Congress.
Ohio allocates money for preschool-age kids in several ways.
The state spent $72.6 million in Ohio Early Childhood Education Grants to serve 16,732 children aged 3 and 4 at community-based providers and schools, according to the Ohio Department of Education’s fiscal year 2022 report.
The state also helps some low income parents pay for child care, spending $679 million in fiscal year 2022 on subsidies. A temporary program that began in 2022 and ends in July uses $51 million from ARPA and an earlier COVID-relief bill to cover the co-pays of parents getting public subsidies for child care, according to Bill Teets, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.
In 2021 the state increased the eligibility threshold for publicly funded child care to 142% of the federal poverty level, which is $32,703 for a family of three, according to the 2022 guidelines Ohio uses.
Credit: JIM NOELKER
Credit: JIM NOELKER
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s proposed FY 2024-2025 budget would increase income eligibility to 160% of the federal poverty level.
His budget also would add $92.2 million to provide 11,525 more children from low-income families with high quality early childhood education, according to fact sheet from his office.
A one-time child care scholarship program for people in critical and direct service occupations would use $150 million in federal funds to increase access to infant and toddler programs.
“We will continue investing in quality child care and early childhood education programs to prepare kids for kindergarten and free up parents to work. We know that Ohioans can only go to work if they have reliable child care that they trust and oftentimes, paying for that care is out of reach for many Ohio families,” DeWine said. “Research shows that children who participate in early education programs outperform their peers in both kindergarten readiness and literacy proficiency by third grade.”
Starting last year Ohio allocated nearly $857 million in COVID-19 relief money in direct grants to child care providers to help with operating costs, workforce retention and recruitment, improving access, adding non-traditional hours and supporting the mental health of children and staff.
Some say DeWine’s proposal, and the state’s efforts fall short.
“There has been no comprehensive change by the state of Ohio to address and fix the issues that exist within care work,” said Tamara Lunan, care economy organizing director of the Ohio Organizing Collaborative. “If we are going to actually fix these issues we need to find solutions that are going to change things and not put a band aid on a structure that has not worked for years.”
Will Petrik, project director at Policy Matters Ohio, called for raising the minimum wage for child care and preschool workers to $20 per hour, increasing public subsidy reimbursements for providers and boosting subsidy eligibility to at least 300%.
“The big goal is we want to expand opportunity for kids and have more parents participate in the workforce,” Petrik said. “If we could wave a wand we want child care to be affordable to all who need it.”
Federal funds used locally
Local jurisdictions are using their own ARPA allocations for child care.
For example, 4C for Children, a non-profit resource and referral agency in southwest Ohio, has ARPA-funded contracts in Northwest Dayton and Warren County focusing on increasing home-based child care providers, and in Miami and Shelby counties to increase both home-based and center-based care, said Lisa Babb, senior strategic director. The focus is on recruiting and training child care providers and helping them build strong businesses.
“We know that this ARPA fund money is not going to be forever,” Babb said. “Sustainable solutions for this crisis are going to require collaboration.”
Businesses needing workers can also play a role, and some already do offer child care services or subsidies for their employees.
State Rep. Andrea White, R-Kettering, is working on a bill that would include public-private partnerships and incentives to help companies and child care businesses partner to provide workers with child care services. She suggested that state tax credits and other incentives could encourage such partnerships.
White also supports DeWine’s budget proposal, which is garnering praise from a wide group of advocates, companies, health care and business organizations, including 39 of those organizations and companies in Ohio who wrote a letter to Ohio legislators calling on them to support his plan.
“In this current budget cycle, we are extremely supportive of the governor’s proposed investments in early childhood learning, including continued expansion of publicly funded child care, investments in child care capacity and expansion of pre-school support,” said Stephanie Keinath, vice president of strategic initiatives at the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce.
“We are working with business leaders and our metro chamber partners across the state to ensure that these provisions remain in the budget, as they are critical to ensuring that Ohio’s parents are able to remain (in) or reenter the workforce.”
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Child Care Resources - Dayton region
Preschool Promise - 937-329-2700
4C for Children - 937-220-9660
Miami Valley Child Development Centers - 937-236-7655
Montgomery County Job and Family Services - 937-496-7759
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