National institute gives Ohio low ranking on preschool programs

By: - August 30, 2023 4:55 am

Two small girls friends playing with wooden marble run. Getty Images.

A national ranking of preschool education across the country showed low marks for Ohio’s readiness when it comes to early childhood education.

The National Institute for Early Education Research’s starting the school year looking at preschool offerings in each state at ages three and four, and spending per child.

The institute used enrollment program data from the 2021-22 school year and also analyzed data based on the cost of living in each state and Washington, D.C.

Access to preschool and the quality of that access varied “dramatically” by state, the report stated.

“This is particularly crucial because preschool education, with its proven ability to enrich child development and lay the foundation for lifelong success, often comes at a substantial financial cost for families,” researchers wrote in the NIEER analysis.

Ohio ranked 36th of 45 states who have access to preschool programs for 4-year-olds, it came in 27th of 35 states with access to preschool programs for 3-year-olds, and 34th in terms of overall funding per child.

To study state spending, NIEER assessed “how much each state is willing to invest per child enrolled in state-funded preschool programs, adjusting for state cost of living, a pivotal factor influencing educational quality and the number of hour of services provided, which can range from just 10 hours per week for 36 weeks to full-day, year-round services.”

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine recently announced changes to the state’s Early Childhood Education program, with a $122 million investment over two years in a grant program for low-income families.

That grant program, which DeWine’s office said would serve an additional 14,901 students, would award “early care and education programs that provide developmentally appropriate learning environments that address the outcomes and goals essential for health development and academic growth.”

In terms of 3- and 4-year-olds, the grant program would add enough grantees to give access to 31,569 kids in that age group.

“This creates a wonderful opportunity to provide some of our most vulnerable students with access to high-quality early child care learning in high-needs areas of the state,” Dr. Chris Woodard, the Ohio Department of Education’s interim superintendent of public instruction, said in a joint statement with the governor’s office.

The governor’s office acknowledged in announcing the grants that the $250 increase to the per-child funding is the first increase the state has seen in 14 years.

In a 2022 state profile, NIEER found Ohio’s publicly funded ECE program enrollment at 16,732 in the 2021-2022 school year, up from the previous school year. That increase was attributed to recovery from COVID-19 closures and enrollment declines.

Only 57% of school districts in Ohio offer a program, according to NIEER.

In separate data, NIEER found enrollment in special education programs at age 3 and 4 to be 15,168 in the 21-22 school year, and federally funded Head Start programs with more than 26,000 3 and 4 years olds enrolled.

State spending in the 21-22 school year was nearly $67 million, but spending per child was down more than $300 per child.

With regard to quality standards, researchers with the early education institute found Ohio only met 5 of 10 “quality standards benchmarks.” The state met early learning and development, curriculum supports, teacher specialized training, screening and referral, and continuous quality improvement system benchmarks. It did not meet NIEER standards in teacher degrees, assistant teacher degrees, staff professional development, maximum class size and staff-child ratio.



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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.