Grants, incentives offered to boost early childhood care in Ohio

Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

In an effort to expand a state-mandated childcare rating system and improve the quality of childcare, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services is offering millions in grants and incentives to programs across the state.

ODJFS said they are offering $7 million to providers who are not currently a part of their Step Up to Quality rating system. The system is a five-star quality rating overseen by the Ohio Department of Education and ODJFS to make sure childcare systems are meeting licensing health and safety regulations, according to the rating system’s website.

Another $3 million in incentives is being offered to help those that are already publicly funded become rated or improve their rating, which ODJFS director Kimberly Hall said helps young learners get to the “same starting line” as the rest of their peers.

“These grants will not only support Ohio’s publicly funded child care providers in improving their quality, but they also will help improve outcomes for Ohio’s children,” Hall said in a statement.

The money comes from the state budget passed this year, which included earmarked funds meant “to administer an early learning and development quality infrastructure grant program,” according to the grant language.

In testimony during budget hearings, Lisa Gray spoke in support of the Step Up To Quality investment into early childhood education made with the earmark. Gray is president of Ohio Excels, a business coalition which has an educational focus.

“The budget’s investment in the quality of programs will help Ohio achieve this goal,” Gray said. “However, moving forward the state must also focus on increasing access to high-quality early childhood education experiences for the students who need it most.”

Tracy Rowe, senior vice president of Cincinnati Early Learning Centers said in her testimony that the ratings systems have increased school readiness, but that funding has always been a hurdle for early childhood education, for the schools and their employees.

“Despite the will to support our staff, current financing for child care across the state makes it exceedingly difficult to pay teachers a fair wage — more than half of our passionate early educators are living in poverty,” Rowe said.

The grants and incentives come as the deadline for state-funded and licensed child care programs to participate in Step Up to Quality comes up in July 2020. According to ODJFS, almost 80% of publicly-funded child care services in the state are rated under the system.

ODJFS said they have implemented initiatives “to help providers become rated,” including wage and retention bonuses for staff, funding incentive payments, a reduction in licensing application fees, free curricula and assessments, and a mentorship program for those who aren’t yet rated.

Unrated or one/two-star rated programs can register between Jan. 1 and Feb. 29, to be eligible for a one-time incentive payment, of $4,000 for qualifying child care centers, and $2,000 for family child care providers.

Nonprofit childcare facilities are also eligible for the funds. In the request for grant applications, ODJFS said they will be picking one non-profit or public entity per county.