Child care budget: Step Up to Quality remains, low-income care boosted

By: - July 2, 2021 1:00 am

Child care in the state will still have one standard-making process that was nearly cut from the state budget, while other investments in broadband and publicly-funded child care come with praise from Ohio advocates.

Leaders of child care facilities and policy advocates in the state were worried that Step Up to Quality, the state’s standard-monitoring system and ranking method for licensed child care programs, would be eliminated after a Senate revision of the budget noted that as a goal. The system was ultimately retained in the final budget version signed by Gov. Mike DeWine into law.

Also included in the budget, financial eligibility for publicly-funded child care (PFCC) was widened for Ohio children, including those with special needs.

“We commend our legislators for recognizing Ohio’s inadequate child care system and providing our families with the opportunity to care for their children, regardless of race, income or ZIP code,” said Tami Lunan, of the nonprofit Ohio Organizing Collaborative.

Early education groups like Groundwork Ohio had been asking for larger increase in PFCC income eligibility, but see the provision as a step forward.

“While the increase is modest and still leaves Ohio behind other states, it is a promising development and a welcome relief to newly-eligible families,” said Shannon Jones, Groundwork’s president and CEO, in a statement following the budget passage.

Negotiations between the Ohio House of Representatives and Senate led to a provision of the budget that eliminated existing law requiring 60% of licensed child care programs to be rated in the third tier or higher of the Step Up to Quality (SUTQ) system by June 30 of this year, and 80% by June 30, 2023.

A conference committee of both legislative chambers’ leaders which determined a final budget bill also decided to sake out a proposal to eliminate a requirement that licensed child care programs be rated through

The conference committee reviewing the budget bill also decided to take out part of the Senate draft which sought to eliminate a requirement that licensed child care programs be rated through SUTQ to provide publicly-funded child care.

The state will earmark $50 million in fiscal year 2022 for publicly-funded child care using federal dollars. The new budget requires that these funds be used “to assist with stabilizing and sustaining the child care program, improve workforce recruitment and retention, and increase access for families.”

A “study committee” will also be implemented to review SUTQ; the number of children and families receiving publicly-funded child care; funding sources for care; and long-term sustainability of the funding sources.

The Children’s Defense Fund-Ohio commended the passage of a budget that included these programs, along with extensions on Medicaid postpartum coverage for new parents and newborns. The group also highlighted $250 million for broadband expansion project funding and money that will be used toward telemedicine services for children’s behavioral health.

But CDF called the budget “incomplete,” urging further investments toward infant and maternal mortality resources as well as youth services. The organization also takes issue with the approved income tax cut of 3%.

“This action will only widen income disparities and starve programs children and families need to thrive,” CDF argued in a statement.

At a press conference the morning after signing the bill, Gov. Mike DeWine called it a “children’s budget” and described his support for investments made in foster care and child care programs. Part of the state’s K-12 public school funding overhaul included student wellness and success dollars, something he has pushed for since the beginning of the 2021 budget process.

“I look forward to seeing the innovative things schools choose to do with this funding,” DeWine told reporters.

DeWine on feared medical discrimination: ‘This is not a problem’

The governor separately defended other provisions of the budget which provoked the ire from Ohio reproductive rights groups. One such budget item requires a consulting physician for an ambulatory surgical facility — including medical facilities used for abortion procedures — to actively practice clinical medicine and have admitting privileges at a hospital within 25 miles of the facility.

“Look, I agree with what was in the budget,” DeWine said in a press conference on Thursday.

DeWine also shot down implications that a “medical practitioner conscience clause” included in the budget is discriminatory toward LGBTQ+ Ohioans or anyone else. The measure allows doctors and facilities to decline medical care that “violates the practitioner’s, institution’s, or payer’s conscience as informed by the moral, ethical, or religious beliefs or principles” held by them.

“People are not going to be discriminated against in regards to medical care,” DeWine said. “This is not a problem, has not been a problem in the state of Ohio and I do not expect it to be a problem.”

DeWine, who had said earlier in the press conference that the overall budget “reflects what we value,” said the provision simply matches what is already happening in the state.

“Let me also say that in the real world, most of those rights …  are not only being recognized and exercised by medical professionals, but they’re being accepted by other medical professionals, that is the way the world generally works,” DeWine said. “This basically put in statute and codified what is happening anyway.”

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Susan Tebben
Susan Tebben

Susan Tebben is an award-winning journalist with a decade of experience covering Ohio news, including courts and crime, Appalachian social issues, government, education, diversity and culture. She has worked for The Newark Advocate, The Glasgow Daily Times, The Athens Messenger, and WOUB Public Media. She has also had work featured on National Public Radio.

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