Governor urges Senate to put $150M child care program back in budget

Credit: Avery Kreemer

Credit: Avery Kreemer

COLUMBUS — Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and child care advocates are urging Ohio senators to restore $150 million in child care scholarship funds proposed by DeWine but axed by the Ohio House in the state budget.

Representatives, however, say they agree increased funding for child care is needed but were concerned that the governor’s plan relied on one-time, federal American Rescue Act Plan funds.

The governor’s budget proposals made child care a central tenet of his final term in office and called for an overhaul of services for children in the state. One of the most expensive parts of his plan was a one-time $150 million child care scholarship program for workers in “critical occupations,” in the fiscal year 2024 paid for with ARPA funds.

This wasn’t included in the budget that passed the House with bipartisan support in April. The budget is now before the Senate Finance Committee.

House Finance Committee member Sarah Carruthers, R-Hamilton, said there was a renewed focus on child care in the state as a way to make Ohio a more attractive place to live by partially addressing sluggish education and mental health concerns among kids.

Carruthers said the House ultimately nixed the $150 million program due to its reliance on one-time ARPA funds. With that money, the House wasn’t looking to start programs that couldn’t be continued.

“Once that’s gone, it’s gone,” she said. “We want long term effects. We want this to be a good, sustainable budget.”

Lynanne Gutierrez, chief operating & policy officer for Groundwork Ohio, told the Dayton Daily News that the scholarship program was particularly pertinent as the state still attempts to bring people back to work, but noted that “the long-term problem will require more investment and priority, there’s no way around it.”

The House countered with its own child care investments. It approved $30 million in child care infrastructure grants for existing facilities to increase their capacity, particularly in underserved areas with limited child care access; along with a significant increase toward preschools and early childhood education at $130.3 million per year, an increase of over $62 million a year from the last budget and about $14 million a year from DeWine’s request.

The House also slightly hemmed in a few of the governor’s requests to support early childhood mental health counselors and the state’s Help Me Grow parent support program.

Lt. Gov. Jon Husted told Dayton Daily News that he and DeWine are still hopeful that the $150 million scholarship program will be picked up by the Senate.

“This is always a process and I think it’s really important that we just continue to educate the legislators on the ‘why’ — why is this important?” Husted said. “That’s what you do during the legislative process and (it’s) what we continue to do now.”

Senate Finance Committee member George Lang, R-West Chester Twp., said he doesn’t oppose the scholarship program on its face but does oppose that it is only available to those in certain, state-designated “critical” professions like teachers, child care providers, nurses and first responders. Lang said he opposed when the government “gets involved with picking winners and losers.”

“I would not, however, be opposed to using some ARPA funds for some funding to help people afford to pay for child care, because (it’s) the No. 1 one issue I hear right now in workforce development,” Lang said.

Dan Tierney, spokesperson for DeWine, told the Dayton Daily News that improving child care will remain a focus for the administration.

“The issue of kids, the issues of the workforce, the issues of supporting moms; all of those were central themes in the governor’s State of the State speech and in the budget he introduced, and child care is certainly at the nexus of all three,” Tierney said.

At a glance:

Here are the budget items related to child care proposed by DeWine and approved by the House:

- Maintaining existing funding systems for child care

- Extending publicly funded child care access to an estimated 15,000 kids per year. Extended access is expected to cost $101 million per year, which would be paid through federal American Rescue Act Plan funds specifically designated to go toward child care services.

- Increasing preschool and early childhood education funding.

- Creating the Department of Children & Youth, which would unify most of the state’s services pertaining to children and is seen as a legacy project for DeWine.

Here’s where DeWine and the House differed:

- The House cut out a $150 million child care scholarship program paid for through the state’s flexible ARPA funds that would go toward workers in “critical occupations” making under 200% of the federal poverty level.

- The House also cut back slightly DeWine’s request for more investment in Ohio’s Help Me Grow parent program and mental health professionals for children.

- The House countered by proposing $30 million toward existing child care centers to increase capacity in underserved areas.

- The House also approved even greater funding for preschools. DeWine proposed $114.2 million per year; House approved $130.3 million. Previous funding was about $68.1 million per year

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