By: Lynanne Gutierrez, Chief Operating & Policy Officer at Groundwork Ohio
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This week, on behalf of Groundwork Ohio, I provided testimony for House Bill 33 to support the Governor’s proposed expansion of preschool, as well as support an additional $46 million over the biennium.
My full testimony as presented to the committee is as follows.
Ohio House Finance Subcommittee on Primary & Secondary Education House Bill 33 Lynanne Gutierrez, Chief Operating & Policy Officer Groundwork Ohio March 21, 2023 Chair Richardson, Ranking Member Isaacson, and distinguished members of the House Finance Subcommittee on Primary & Secondary Education, thank you for the opportunity to testify on House Bill 33. My name is Lynanne Gutierrez, and I serve as the Chief Operating & Policy Officer at Groundwork Ohio. Groundwork Ohio is a nonpartisan public-policy research and advocacy organization. Our organization focuses on the time when children’s experiences and environments most influence their health, development, and life trajectory: from birth to age 5. We work to ensure that every baby, toddler, and young child in Ohio has the resources and opportunities for a strong start. It is never too early to invest in a child, but it can be too late. The vision of Groundwork Ohio is to make Ohio the best place to be a young child so that every child has the opportunity to reach their full potential. We believe providing preschool to three- and four-year-olds is critically important to achieve this vision. Currently, the Early Childhood Education Grant provides for 12.5 hours of preschool each week to less than 15% of income-eligible three- and four-year-olds. House Bill 33 proposes expanding preschool access through the Early Childhood Education Grant to an additional 11,525 children from low-income households, growing the program to over 29,000 children each year and reducing the number of unserved children from low-income households by 25%.
We ask the Subcommittee to support the Governor’s proposed expansion of preschool, as well as support an additional $46 million over the biennium. These additional funds would allow local communities to open more preschool classrooms, pilot full-day programming and implement other locally identified innovations. Students in Ohio are starting behind and staying behind. As you deliberate on this bill, it is crucial you understand the importance of early childhood education for our future workforce and the future of this state. After two years of extensive research, fact-gathering, and input from children and family experts throughout the state, including families themselves, we proudly released the 2023 Early Childhood Data Dashboard earlier this year. This first-of-its-kind tool incorporates more than 60 metrics across six domains, including early learning access, kindergarten readiness, poverty, prenatal care, well-child visits, and more, spotlighting the immense challenges and broad inequities faced by the families in our state. One key takeaway from our research reveals that Ohio kids are starting behind in kindergarten and staying behind. Research shows a strong connection between a child’s readiness to enter kindergarten and their math and reading skills throughout their academic career. Currently, 62.1% of Ohio kindergartners are not demonstrating readiness for kindergarten and children who are economically disadvantaged are more than two times less likely to demonstrate kindergarten readiness than their more affluent peers (76.9% of economically disadvantaged kindergartners are not demonstrating readiness). This gap in kindergarten readiness exists in suburban, Appalachian, rural, and urban counties (see Appendix A). Even counties that perform relatively well overall see a gap in readiness for children from economic disadvantage. Even more alarming is that this readiness gap doesn’t close—nearly the same percentage of children who do not demonstrate readiness for kindergarten also do not demonstrate proficiency in fourth-grade reading or eighth-grade math. It’s no surprise that most children aren’t ready to learn and continue to struggle throughout K-12 given that only about half of children ages 0-5 under 200% of the Federal Poverty Level are able to access any state-funded child care, preschool, or Head Start.[i] Figure 1: Kindergarten Readiness
According to the National Institute for Early Education Research, Ohio ranks 37th in the nation for access to preschool for four-year-olds and 33rd in state spending.[ii] When children are prepared for kindergarten, they are prepared for future academic success. This is why early investment reaps such substantial rewards. Not only does it improve school readiness but builds a strong foundation for a lifetime of success for Ohio kids. Approximately a third to a half of low-income 3-and 4-year-olds are not being served by any publicly supported preschool programming. In school year 2022-2023, Ohio is serving approximately 88,000 low-income 3-and 4-year-olds across varying programs, including the state’s Early Childhood Education program, preschool special education, publicly funded child care, and the Head Start program.[iii] Children in some of Ohio’s most vulnerable counties are not being served by the current state investment in preschool (see Appendix B).[iv] Without further investment in the Early Childhood Education Grant, they never will. Investing in young children today and tomorrow strengthens Ohio. Early learning experiences set the foundation for school readiness and positive outcomes in school and life. Ninety percent (90%) of a child’s brain is developed by age five and research shows that children who participate in preschool have more developed language and social skills when entering kindergarten, are more likely to graduate from high school and have good careers as adults.
Preschool and child care are inextricably linked and the children attending a preschool program using the Early Childhood Education grant require additional child care beyond the 12.5 hours a week covered by the grant. Many working families cannot utilize the Grants unless they have child care for the remainder of their work week. Because of this, it’s imperative that the Early Childhood Education grant be viewed within the full scope of early care and education opportunities for children birth to age five. There are currently 348 Early Childhood Education grantees. Over a third of these grantees are private child care and Head Start programs, while the remaining grantees are local education agencies, including school districts, community schools and educational service centers. Preschool experiences in a child care setting often closes the care gap that working parents need. A recent poll by Public Opinion Strategies highlighted the difficulty parents have in accessing and affording child care which plays a foundational role in stabilizing families, businesses and rebuilding our economy. Nearly 70% of non-working or part-time working moms with children under the age of five in Ohio said they would go back to work or work more hours if they had access to child care at a reasonable cost. (See Appendix C, Public Opinion Strategies, Ohio Statewide Poll Key Findings)[v] Figure 1: Moms Need Child Care to Work
The poll indicates that parents believe the pandemic has made it harder to both access and afford care for their children. The lack of investment in Ohio’s young children in both child care and preschool impacts Ohio’s ability to attract new business investment across the state. Right now, Ohio parents are forced to choose between taking on full-time employment because they cannot afford the high cost of child care. Figure 2: Child Care Wait Lists
Figure 3: 800,000 working parents have cut back their work hours
Given these alarming challenges of working parents and the recognition of these challenges by voters demonstrated through the poll, it is no surprise that 80% of voters and 87% of parents favor increasing funding in the state for child care and early learning programs. Expanding preschool opportunities in our state provides more than just a strong foundation in early learning for the child, it’s also a needed workforce support for parents and overwhelmingly supported by voters. Preschool investments must be done in tandem with investments in infant and toddler child care. It's important to also note that while Groundwork Ohio is extremely supportive of expanding access to preschool, our organization is also very concerned about the growing gap of child care availability for infants and toddlers. Currently, less than 1 in 5 Ohio babies from families with low incomes have access to child care.[vi] We cannot solve our state’s workforce crisis without investing in care and early learning birth through age five. It is imperative to invest in both preschool expansion and building capacity for infant and toddler care. This is why our organization is also recommending a $30 million new investment in infant and toddler child care. In conclusion, the expansion of the Early Childhood Education grant in House Bill 33 is one of many effective tools to increase opportunities for young children to meet their full potential and support families in the workforce. We encourage this subcommittee to consider the positive educational and economic impact that this legislation will have for families with young children. Thank you for your time and consideration. I am happy to answer any questions today or by email at email@example.com
Appendix A Percent of students demonstrating kindergarten readiness (school year 2021-2022).
Appendix B Number of Early Childhood Education Grant preschool slots in each county (2022). Full testimony, including all appendices, is available here.
[i] Groundwork Ohio Early Childhood Dashboard (2023) [ii] Friedman-Krauss, A. H., Barnett, W. S., Garver, K. A., Hodges, K. S., Weisenfeld, G., Gardiner, B. A., Jost, T. M. (2022). The State of Preschool 2021: State Preschool Yearbook. New Brunswick, NJ: National Institute for Early Education Research. [iii] Preschool Programs and Service Levels, Ohio Department of Education (September 2022) [iv] Note: There are no state funded Early Childhood Education grants for preschool in the following counties: Ashland, Carroll, Delaware, Geauga, Hancock, Henry, Holmes, Madison, Medina, Miami, Morrow, Noble, Shelby, Union, Washington, Wyandot. However, low-income children may be served by the federally funded Head Start program or private preschools utilizing Ohio’s Publicly Funded Child Care subsidy. [vi] Groundwork Ohio Early Childhood Dashboard (2023)