Policy and business advocates alike are hoping the Ohio legislature will reconsider changes to the state budget with regard to the child care workforce and scholarships.
The House revised the budget bill last week, eliminating $150 million in American Rescue Plan funds that were a part of the governor’s executive budget proposal to establish a child care scholarship for “critical occupations and other direct service professionals,” according to the budget analysis by the Legislative Service Commission.
The scholarships would have been awarded to those with household incomes at or below 200% of the federal poverty level.
Even the Ohio Chamber of Commerce jumped on board with support for scholarships in testimony on the state budget last week. The chamber’s senior vice president, former Republican legislator Rick Carfagna, called child care “one of the biggest workforce dynamics of late.”
“The Ohio Chamber urges this committee to reconsider funding for child care scholarships and to increase infant and toddler child care capacity in communities throughout the state,” Carfagna said in his testimony.
According to the chamber, more than half of rural Ohioans and 39% of all Ohioans live in a “child care desert,” defined as an area where more than 50 children younger than 5 have no child care providers or any area where there are three times as many children as licensed child care slots.
Carfagna said the chamber supported increasing the poverty level eligibility for publicly funded childcare, which would be raised to 160% under the budget, as an expansion that would strengthen Ohio’s employee base.
“However, we caution of the access bottlenecks in place as Ohio still lacks a corresponding increase in provider workforce to accommodate the FPL increase and follow proper ratios,” Carfagna testified.
The ARPA funding would have also been directed toward efforts to “increase access to licensed child care programs for infants and toddlers and streamline administrative efficiency of the child care program,” the governor’s proposal stated.
“If lawmakers don’t support child care professionals, child care providers will continue to struggle to recruit and retain staff and Ohio will remain unable to meet the child care needs of our families,” said Policy Matters Ohio executive director Hannah Halbert after the substitute budget bill was announced.
The Cleveland based preschool and child care advocacy group PRE4CLE sees the $150 million funding as a vital step in not only bringing in needed child care workers, but keeping them around.
“We have many child care centers with classrooms that can’t open (because of staffing shortages),” said Katie Kelly, PRE4CLE executive director. “There are waiting lists in the hundreds of families for centers … it’s causing incredible disruptions for families.”
For families, that could mean not taking jobs due to a lack of child care, something that has an outsized impact on women, according to Kelly.
For children, it could mean slower development and longterm impacts on their education.
“Children who have access to quality child care … have a much greater chance of starting kindergarten ready to succeed,” Kelly told the OCJ.
Not only do advocates like Kelly hope to see the return of the $150 million child care investment in Ohio’s budget, but also another $75 million to support grants that would help the state’s child care workforce, “which faces an ongoing crisis that makes it hard to hire and retain child care workers.”