Editorial: Lawmakers on verge of throwing Ohio’s children out with the bathwater in bad child-care proposal


Whether we will pay now or pay more later is being debated in our Statehouse.

An amendment to the Senate version of Ohio’s two-year budget pushed by Senate President Matt Huffman would remove the Step Up To Quality star mandate for the child-care facilities we pay.

The Step Up To Quality star system passed in 2012 became mandatory in 2020 for any facility that accepts kids in the Publicly Funded Child Care program, which is an income-based assistance program available through the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.

Approved last week by the Senate, the budget is now back to the House. A final budget deal must be reached by June 30

Under Huffman’s plan, providers still would be paid extra for earning stars, but those without stars could accept kids whose care is paid for by the state.

Huffman has a point that the program is expensive and, on its face, burdensome when it does not have to be.

The alternative for the sort of intervention Step Up To Quality provides is much worse.

A May report by the University of Cincinnati Economics Center says that quality care and education for children early in childhood can make a lifelong difference.

“Benefits of early child-care interventions are often long-lasting and include higher academic achievement, better employment options, and many other secondary effects such as better health outcomes and reduced involvement in the criminal justice system,” the report says. “Early care and education programs have been proven to be effective in increasing participants’ levels of education on average, which in turn result in higher wages, increased labor force participation, and reductions to the unemployment rate.”

Ohio has a clear problem when it comes to educating our young.

Only 40% of kindergartners in Ohio come to the classroom ready to learn, according to the Ohio Association of Child Care Providers.

In Franklin County, just 28% of economically disadvantaged children passed their kindergarten readiness tests in 2018, according to the Ohio Early Childhood Race and Rural Equity Report.

Those same exams were passed by 60% of kids from higher-income homes.

Researchers who conducted a 2017 study by Compass Evaluation and Research were encouraged by outcome progress they observed with Step Up To Quality. A 2020 study by Measurement Resources Company found that on average, kids who participate in Step Up To Quality-rated programs score higher on the overall and all Kindergarten Readiness Assessments subscales test than peers who participate in nonrated programs.

Children in programs with 3 to 5 stars score higher on kindergarten readiness and third-grade English Language Arts tests than peers in programs with 1 to 2 stars.

“It is clear that the Step Up To Quality program is working in Ohio but removing required participation will only hurt Ohio’s children – particularly for Ohio’s low-income, minority, at-risk and Appalachian children,” Mary Ann Rody, Ohio Association of Child Care Providers executive director, said as part of a statement. “High quality means children are better prepared for kindergarten, more likely to meet the third-grade reading guarantee and more likely to graduate from high school. In fact, every $1 invested in high quality care today results in $13 saved tomorrow.”

Saying it can be skewed, Huffman, an attorney with grandchild who use child-care, remains unconvinced by research about the program’s effectiveness or the long-term impact of pre-K learning despite research indicating all children benefit from it, but it is particularly valuable to poor kid.

He’s called Step Up To Quality a “regulatory scheme” that has reduced options for low-income parents by driving good child-care providers out of business.

That argument is not entirely off base.

At a time when there is a critically low shortage of child-care workers and demand for help is high, some mom-and-pop and religious child-care providers say the expense, hoops and paperwork for participating in Step Up To Quality is not worth the payout.

Yet many child advocates and child-care providers sing the program’s praises.

To receive money from the state, providers must do a list of things that include teaching curriculum that supports development and learning, administering assessments and using individual learning plans.

There are different requirements to reach the various star levels.

Facilities with four to five stars for example must have center administrators, owners, and 50% of teachers with associate’s degrees or higher, or Career Pathway Level credentials.

If the Senate version of the budget is approved, $20 million would be added to child-care assistance, but the annual income limits for state-assisted child care would be about $31,000 a year.

Huffman is right that Step Up To Quality will be very expensive by 2025, the year child-care providers must earn at least three stars to qualify. Providers have had to have at least one star since September. The higher their rating, the more money they receive.

The Lima senator’s staff estimated the cost of the Publicly Funded Child Care program will increase by 80% from 2021 to 2025.

If the federal government doesn’t chip in more money (it very well may), Ohio will be on the hook for $641.8 million on top of $250 million already spent annually on the program.

Left untouched, Step Up To Quality will be a $1 billion “budget buster’ in just a few years, Huffman says.

That’s a lot of money, but it’s nowhere near the cost of not providing quality education for Ohio’s children.

All Ohio children deserve quality education.

If the issue is paperwork, reduce the red tape.

If the issues are the expense of training and attracting qualified instructors, work with mom-and-pop operators to make them more-attractive employers.

If it is money, advocate for solutions from the community and push for funding from the federal government. We find ways to fund many things in this state. Our childs’ education should be one of them.

Lawmakers must step up and help them, and help all of our kids go to school ready to learn and be prepared to thrive in the future.

Tossing this baby out with the bathwater would amount to throwing our babies out of future opportunities to thrive.

— Columbus Dispatch, June 13