Guest column: Education report doesn't tell the whole story
Posted on 5.16.11
KAREN GEIGER, KAREN H. JAHNKE AND MARK J. JAHNKE
As volunteer leaders of United Way of Greater Cincinnati and its early childhood collaborative, Success By 6, we appreciate the coverage provided by the Enquirer on the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) report.
We share the concern that we are not investing enough public dollars in programs for young children that prepare them for school and life. However, we would ask for a more comprehensive view than NIEER provides about what Ohio is doing well - and not doing well - for young children.
We absolutely believe that Ohio must invest more in children prenatally to five years of age. There is no more successful strategy for increasing a child's chance to succeed in school and life than giving them the right start. United Way Success By 6 works with programs throughout the region to improve child development and kindergarten readiness. However, we have to make those investments in the least costly, most effective way so that we can serve all children who need these programs.
Care for our youngest children is offered by states in a variety of settings with different goals. The NIEER study focused only on preschool programs funded through state departments of education. If you look only at public preschool, it is true that Ohio has lost ground - and that is regrettable. However, the NIEER report ignored services provided to children prenatally through five in other settings, including those provided by the state and private funders.
United Way invests in home visitation for first-time, at-risk mothers and strategies that improve the quality of education provided in child care settings. Data show these investments are effective ways to support healthy child development and improve kindergarten readiness in our community.
We know these services can achieve goals that are similar to public preschool programs but they do it in different ways.
Public preschool programs - the only programs measured by NIEER - generally serve children in school buildings, no matter where the parent lives. Subsidized child care programs serve children in a variety of community-based settings, many of which are convenient to the family.
Public preschool has shorter hours, similar to the school day, while subsidized child care has longer hours to meet the needs of working families.
The Early Learning Initiative, which was defunded in the last budget and is the main reason for Ohio's falling rank, cost $10,483 per child. Child care provided in a quality-rated child care center costs $9,059 per child and a home visitation program that supports both child development and parenting skills can cost as little as $3,000 per child.
Ohio's resources are currently effectively invested in increasing the quality of child care classrooms through Step Up to Quality, an approach that is reaching more than 77,000 children statewide. The quality of these programs, measured and supported, is what we know will produce positive results for kids. These programs not only provide high quality preschool services but high quality services to infants, toddlers and school-aged children as well. Since 68 percent of households in Ohio with children under five have working parents, making sure that child care is available and high quality is key for our state. Ohio also invests significantly in research-based home visitation programs which help parents improve their ability to prepare their own children for school and life. The state will spend $34 million in the next budget, serving more than 20,000 children and families with this important program.
We restate that there is no more important investment Ohio can make than in programs for our youngest children. This position has broad public support - from the Ohio Business Roundtable to numerous community and education leaders. We will continue to lead private research and investment in this area and work with our state leaders to make smart, sound choices about how to support our children.
Ohio and Gov. Kasich have shown their commitment to young children by maintaining significant investments in programs and we hope this commitment will continue and strengthen. However, we will not accept that there is only one way to measure success and will continue to fund those strategies that support the largest number of children in the most effective ways at the lowest cost.
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