More funding needed for Ohio early childhood education Head Start programs, study finds

By: - December 6, 2022 4:55 am

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In Ohio, less than one-third of children in poverty are enrolled in early childhood education Head Start programs, a national study found, and more investment is needed for the programs to succeed.

The “State of Head Start and Early Head Start” report, done by the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) at Rutgers University, studied program enrollment and demographics throughout the country.

“The report finds that federal investment is needed to increase access for families in poverty and address racial and ethnic disparities in enrollment,” according to NIEER.

Ohio has only 29% enrollment in Head Start for kids in poverty, and only 8% in Early Head Start.

Head Start is a federal program started in 1965, making it one of the oldest U.S. programs for low-income children. The last time the national program had saw Congressional interaction was 2007, through the Improving Head Start for School Readiness Act, which revised performance standards and raised teacher qualifications to include the requirement for at least half of all Head Start teachers to have a Bachelor’s degree or higher.

The program serves 3 to 5 year-olds, with Early Head Start programs benefiting infants, toddler and pregnant women. The programs focus on early leaning, health, and family well-being, according to the Ohio Department of Education’s page on the state-level program.

Priorities listed on Ohio’s Head Start Collaboration Office include partnering with child care systems and Step Up to Quality, the quality-rating system for daycares. The state also set a goal for the Head Start program and the state school systems to “ensure continuity” between the program and the Kindergarten Readiness Assessment.

But the national study showed only 35% of Ohio’s white children in poverty are enrolled in Head Start, followed by 24% of Black children and 28% of impoverished children of other races.

Early Head Start has 11% enrollment of white students and 6% Black children in the state, the study shows.

Part of the criticism of the program is the inconsistency from state to state, with enrollment in North Dakota at 56%, but Nevada’s at 9%. Early Head Start had its highest enrollment in Kansas (20%) and its lowest in Indiana (5%).

The COVID-19 pandemic had its impacts on the programs in each state, with the 2020-21 enrollment numbers dipping nearly 290,000 nationally. The pandemic hit specific groups harder than others, with Black children enrolled nationally dropping 15%, compared to a 6% decline for white children.

“Despite steady declines in child poverty, Head Start serves the same percentage of children in poverty it did a decade ago, leaving far too many children behind, a problem that the pandemic has now exacerbated greatly,” said Dr. Steven Barnett, education professor and NIEER co-director.

Nationwide enrollment numbers have bounced back up, according to the research, but haven’t made it back to pre-pandemic numbers.

The NIEER report concluded “insufficient funding has limited the (nationwide) program’s ability to deliver these services to all eligible children and families, hampering progress over the last decade.”

Low salaries for Head Start workers are part of the problem, the research showed. To help with that, Allison Friedman-Krauss, research professor and lead author of the NIEER report, said funding increases need to happen.

“Inequities in access to Head Start and Early Head Start could be substantially erased by upping Head Start funding $2.5 billion each year for the next four years, for a total of $10 billion in new funds targeted on equity,” Friedman-Krauss wrote in announcing the study.



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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 (KY) Daily Times, The Athens Messenger, and WOUB Public Media. She has also had work featured on National Public Radio.