Advocates urge Ohio’s Republican senators to restore money for affordable child care in the budget

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (Statehouse News Bureau) — Advocates for affordable child care and early childhood education programs hope Ohio’s Republican senators will reconsider funding changes to a program they say helps parents and employers having trouble finding workers.

A teacher leads a classroom session at a child care facility in central Ohio.
A teacher leads a classroom session at a child care facility in central Ohio. The facility is listed as “highly rated” under the Step Up to Quality program. [Daniel Konik | Statehouse News Bureau]
The Senate budget reduced Gov. Mike DeWine’s expansion of eligibility for publicly funded child care from 160% of the federal poverty level, or just under $40,000 a year for a family of three, to 145%, or around $37,000 a year for a family of three.

That cuts 15,000 kids off, said Lynanne Gutierrez with the early childhood development group Groundwork Ohio.

“It’s unacceptable that a majority of parents in our state report with children under 5 reported that they or someone they know was on a waitlist for child care, and that more than four in 10 of those parents have been on a wait list for more than six months,” Gutierrez said. “It’s about employers who feel this impact deeply as well, with lost productivity and revenue when 800,000 Ohio working parents have cut back their hours due to child care barriers.”

Groundwork Ohio is also asking senators to restore $15 million in grants for child care deserts and $150 million in scholarships for lower-income Ohioans in so-called “critical occupations” that were in DeWine’s initial budget. The House cut those scholarships, which were paid for with one-time COVID relief money.

The Senate budget also expands the exemptions in Step Up to Quality, the five-star ratings program the state created for publicly funded child care providers. Supporters of the program say it ensures high quality child care for lower-income kids. But Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) has been critical of Step Up to Quality as contributing to the shortage because the requirements are too expensive and bureaucratic for some providers.

Researchers for state lawmakers say it’s possible more providers will join Step Up to Quality if they are exempt from being rated, which could mean additional costs to the state, but also that some rated providers might not choose to maintain their rating, which will lower the state’s payments to those providers.