By: Commissioner Erica C. Crawley
Investing in our children is not only an investment in their future, but in the future of the entire region. The research is clear, and the bottom line is that children who start behind, usually stay behind. We know that in Franklin County, only 40 percent of kindergarteners come to the classroom ready to learn. This leads to outcomes that negatively impact a child’s life well into adulthood and thus harm the vitality of our region overall. The pandemic only worsened these disparities for our children, their educators, and child care providers.
The Franklin County Board of Commissioners has always been a strong proponent of early childhood education. Between 2015-2020, the Board provided $4 million, as well as free training, to ensure our county’s child care providers could meet Ohio’s quality standard mandate and continue to provide publicly funded child care to the children who need it most. Our commitment has only strengthened during the pandemic, which is why the Board of Commissioners is taking strong action to invest in early child care. We want central Ohio to be a region of hope, where children for generations to come are set up to thrive.
Introducing Franklin County RISE
Franklin County RISE is a historic investment by the Franklin County Board of Commissioners of over $22 million dollars! This funding will directly combat the pandemic-related strain on our early learning system, which was already stretched to the brink before 2020. In Franklin County alone, 173 providers have closed. Further, half of providers in central Ohio that are open report not being able to cover expenses, and 17 percent are unsure if they can remain open for another three months.
As mentioned, prior to March 2020, only 40 percent of Franklin County’s children were ready for kindergarten, and the rate is even lower for children of color (26 percent) and for children living in poverty (28 percent). Nearly all progress in closing those achievement gaps has been halted due to the pandemic, and without action, disparities in our community will only increase.
This crisis also impacts our community’s economic development, as more and more parents, especially mothers, leave the workforce to care for their children. For these reasons, Franklin County RISE is providing significant, holistic investments in our child care system that will support Franklin County families, child care centers, and early learning educators.
RISE Child Care Scholarships for Families
We know that too many children do not receive a quality early childhood education because of the high personal cost and Ohio’s low eligibility standards for publicly funded child care (PFCC). Due to this glaring gap, Franklin County is investing a total of $11.4 million for RISE Family Scholarships over two years, in addition to the City of Columbus’ $2.5 million investment. The fund provides scholarships of up to $10,000 annually for 750 children in the first year, and 500 children in the second year.
Designed to help families with incomes between 142-300% of the federal poverty line, these scholarships combat the benefits cliff and make quality child care more accessible. Additionally, our Franklin County Department of Jobs and Family Services funds several workforce programs to help our residents gain new skills. Participants in these programs will also be eligible for RISE Child Care Scholarships, to ensure that child care is not a barrier to participation in the workforce.
RISE Incentive Awards for Providers
Our child care providers are the workforce behind the workforce. They ensure that our children receive a quality education and a safe space to learn and thrive. Franklin County is investing $10.9 million over two years for six types of incentive awards for providers. Providers can receive multiple awards, which is explained below:
Publicly Funded Child Care Incentives
Licensed providers entering a new PFCC agreements with the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) will receive a $1,000 award
Licensed providers maintaining PFCC agreements and enrolling children through the program are eligible for up to $2,000 in incentives annually
Step Up To Quality Incentives (SUTQ)
Centers and licensed Family Child Care (FCC) homes earning a star-rating can receive awards of $2,500 and $1,000, respectively
Centers and licensed Family Child Care (FCC) homes maintaining a star-rating can receive awards of $2,500 and $1,000, respectively
Centers and licensed Family Child Care (FCC) homes increasing a star-rating to 3, 4, or 5 can receive awards of $10,000 and $5,000, respectively
Non-traditional Care Incentives
Centers and licensed FCC homes enrolling children during non-traditional hours are eligible for up to $5,000 incentives annually. These hours include 6 p.m.-6 a.m. on weekdays and on weekends
RISE Teacher Supports
Supporting the child care workforce is essential to supporting our children, and the wages of our early educators are insufficient. These caregivers are among the lowest paid professionals with average wages ranging from $11.39/hour for assistant teachers to $12.22/hour for lead teachers. With salaries falling far below the living wage for a single adult without children, educators are at a serious risk for experiencing a housing cost burden. Therefore, Franklin County will invest $500,000 of emergency rental assistance to assist early childhood educators.
Franklin County RISE shows our county’s commitment to the youngest members of our society, who are both our current foundation and future hope. By taking care of the most vulnerable, we can ensure a stronger and healthier community for generations.
Although we are proud of this investment, we know our work is far from over. For example, I recently sponsored a resolution at the National Association of Counties (NACo) urging the federal government to pass robust legislation and increase funding to stabilize the child care industry and workforce. While the Franklin County Board of Commissioners advocates for changes at the national and state level, we know that intervention can’t wait, and we will continue to act quickly. Franklin County is exploring opening a child care center downtown for Franklin County employees and the surrounding community, and we will continue to explore creative ways to uplift our children, families, and community.
Franklin County RISE is funded by the Franklin County Board of Commissioners and the City of Columbus, and administered by Action for Children, Central Ohio’s Resource and Referral Association. Please visit Rise.FranklinCountyOhio.gov for program details.
Franklin County Commissioner Erica C. Crawley is a mother, advocate, and veteran. She is the first Franklin County Black woman Commissioner and is a U.S. Navy Veteran. She is also a proud first-generation college graduate, holds a J.D. from Capital University Law School and M.P.A from Walden University.
Before her service as a Franklin County Commissioner, Crawley served in the Ohio House of Representatives representing the 26th District. There, she worked on maternal health, infant mortality, birth to five initiatives, housing and food insecurity, and veterans’ issues. She also served as the Ranking Member on the House Finance Committee, among other legislative committees. She was previously appointed to the Governor’s Commission on Infant Mortality, the Commission on Minority Health, the State Controlling Board, the Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board, and is a founding member of Ohio’s Black Maternal Health Caucus.
Prior to her service in elected office, Commissioner Crawley worked on behalf of children and families as a Court Appointed Special Advocate for Children (CASA), and in positions with the YWCA Head Start/Early Start Program and the Black Child Development Institute.