Home Social Justice Ohio families lack access to public child care despite state spending boost

Ohio families lack access to public child care despite state spending boost

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Ohio is spending $118 million more on public child care and preschool programs than last year, but a study shows many children from poor families are missing out on the opportunities.

Some parents can’t send their kids to half-day public preschool because they don’t qualify for child care assistance for the other half-day, according to a study from Policy Matters Ohio, a nonprofit policy research institute.

To enter the public child care program, one can earn no more than 130 percent of the federal poverty level, which is about $26,000 a year for a family of three. For public preschool programs, the income eligibility is 200 percent of the federal poverty line, or about $40,000 for a family of three.

The different eligibility levels put up barriers to some families who need to enter both programs. For example, a mother of two kids with an annual income of $30,000 would be eligible to put her kids in public preschool, but she makes too much money to be accepted for child care assistance.

“Many preschool programs are part-day,” said Wendy Patton, senior project director for Policy Matters Ohio. “Working parents need to have their children taken care of on a full-day basis so that they can work. We know many families are out there struggling because the initial eligibility for child care assistance is so low.”

In the 2016-2017 state budget, public child care funding increased by $48.6 million, and early learning and pre-kindergarten funding rose by $69.7 million, a 77.5 percent boost from the previous budget.

In 2013-2014, just 4 percent of Ohio’s low-income 4-year-olds were enrolled in public preschools, compared to the national average of 29 percent. Ohio spent $4,000 per child enrolled in public preschools in 2014, below the national average of $4,125, according to the National Institute for Early Education Research’s most recent data.

The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services administers the state’s publicly-funded child care program. It spends about $566 million annually to provide free and reduced-cost child care to about 118,000 children each month, the department’s spokesman Benjamin Johnson said.

“Our program serves children of all ages, from infants to preschoolers to school age children who need child care before and after school,” Johnson said.

According to the Ohio Legislative Service Commission’s analysis of the state budget, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services received $854.7 million state and federal funding for child care programs in 2016.

Patton also said public child care moves children in and out of classrooms as parents’ jobs change or end.

“If a mom loses her job and she’s getting some help from the child care program, she can take up to three months to find another job,” Patton said. “And if she gets something temporary and it ends again, she’s only got 30 days before her child is no longer eligible and bounced out of the classroom.”

“You’ve got scared toddlers coming in and out of the child care all day long. It’s not good for anybody,” she added.

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