Ohio’s next budget (FY 2022-2023) is critically important for families and Ohio’s youngest and most vulnerable children, especially as Ohio moves into the recovery period of the COVID-19 pandemic.

While we are pleased to see Governor Mike DeWine’s executive budget proposal did not cut funding for the programs and services we advocate for, his budget proposal only sustained funding or had very slight increases in many programs and services for young children and families. As deliberations over the state budget continue, Ohio policymakers have an opportunity to do right by Ohio children, employees and communities by expanding access to quality child care and preserving Ohio’s child care quality rating system.

Access to quality, affordable child care is a key workforce issue. If we want families to work, they must know their child is in a safe, nurturing environment. Unfortunately, many Ohio families are being denied the chance to succeed at work and become self-sufficient because they cannot afford quality child care or it’s simply not available. As a result, many working parents are dropping out of the workforce to become full-time caregivers.

While the child care crisis existed long before COVID-19, the pandemic has exacerbated the issue: Lack of child care is now the third most-reported reason for not working, third only to pandemic-related layoffs and furloughs due to reduced business. Child care challenges are costly to businesses as well: Prior to the pandemic, American businesses lost an estimated $12.7 billion annually because of their employees’ child care challenges.

To help more Ohio families return to and stay at work, the Ohio General Assembly must expand access to quality, affordable child care. Specifically, expanding eligibility for the publicly funded child care subsidy to 150% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) in FY 2022 will help more low-income families pay for child care so that working parents can keep working.

While other states have figured out how to be more reasonable and thoughtful about encouraging parents to take and keep jobs, Ohio has one of the most restrictive eligibility standards for child care in the country. Only one other state – Indiana – makes it harder for families to get public child care assistance. Right now, only families earning 130% FPL or less are eligible for Ohio’s publicly funded child care. This means a single mother of two young children earning more than $27,014 a year makes too much to receive child care assistance.

Raising eligibility to 150% FPL would also serve at least 14,000 more children in publicly funded child care, providing some of Ohio’s most vulnerable children with enriching early learning experiences. This is an investment that not only benefits children in the short term, but also throughout their lives. High-quality interventions in the earliest years of a child’s life results in improved kindergarten readiness rates, higher high school graduation rates and a more prepared workforce. Ohio is facing a workforce crisis because kids are not ready for school: Only 41% of Ohio children come to kindergarten ready to learn. This crisis is becoming more dire considering the learning loss sustained during the pandemic.

In addition to expanding access to Ohio’s publicly funded child care, the Ohio General Assembly must protect and preserve Step Up to Quality, Ohio’s child care quality rating system. Step Up to Quality recognizes early care and child care programs that exceed minimum health and safety standards and promote children’s learning and development, helping parents choose services that provide both an educational and developmental experience for their children. Importantly, Step Up to Quality gives providers enhanced funding for offering high-quality care.

Quality in child care matters. Ninety percent of brain development happens in the first five years of life, laying a foundation that will follow a child through school and beyond. High-quality child care is validated by decades of national and Ohio-specific research. An initial review of Ohio’s Step Up to Quality indicates ... it’s transforming outcomes for young children.

Now more than ever, Ohio must build on the great progress made so far by fully investing in Ohio’s Step Up to Quality rating system.

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