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Laying the Groundwork: Early Learning Access and Quality

By: Lynanne Gutierrez, Chief Operating & Policy Officer at Groundwork Ohio Follow Lynanne on Twitter and LinkedIn

As a working mom with an infant and a toddler, I can assure you that, in addition to my professional role at Groundwork, I think about the child care choice I have made for my two children Every. Single. Day. How can my family and other working families survive without quality child care? These are the questions that most often run through my head:

  • Will my children’s classroom teachers leave…again…disrupting my children’s stability and routine?

  • How are my children’s teachers, who make on average $10.67 an hour, managing and caring for their own families when they are not earning a self-sufficient wage?

  • Will my children have access to professionals who are available and ready to meet their big emotions with love, acceptance, and the expertise to guide them?

  • Will my children be ready to learn in a kindergarten classroom?

And, even more recently…is my baby safe from COVID?

The stories we have heard from across the state, in addition to the data we track in Groundwork’s Early Childhood Dashboard Preview, are a reminder that no parent is alone in these concerns. And for families living with low incomes, the ability to access quality early learning opportunities is even more difficult. These opportunities include publicly funded child care (PFCC), Head Start, Early Intervention, and publicly funded preschool including special education preschool. In the Dashboard Preview, we estimate more than half of Ohio children under the age of 5 living in families with low incomes (under 200% of the Federal Poverty Level) did not have access to quality early learning opportunities in 2019-2021.

All Ohio working parents, regardless of income, struggle to find affordable, quality child care and want the best for their children. The “best” is, at baseline, a program that will ensure the health and safety of our children and prepare them to be ready for school. Step Up to Quality (SUTQ) is the framework by which we ensure and increase access to quality publicly funded child care for families with low incomes in Ohio. SUTQ implements a reasonable progression of data-driven expectations, fosters continuous improvement, and increases a child’s opportunity to succeed in a kindergarten classroom. The Dashboard Preview spotlights that in 2021, 93% of Ohio children in PFCC were enrolled in quality programs. Nearly half were enrolled in high-quality programs.

When public policy fails to support working families with low incomes in accessing quality early learning opportunities, it is a mark of failure for our state. Those low-income families are forced with the choice of leaving the workforce or patchworking together low-quality and often unsafe care for their children. Either choice results in outcomes that perpetuate poverty and harm the health and educational attainment of our future workforce – our children and grandchildren.

We should not be forced to pit early learning access against quality and we should not burden families with impossible decisions. Ensuring every working family has the choice to access quality early learning opportunities for their children is a wise and successful public investment that supports Ohioans today and secures a strong future for Ohio’s workforce.

To explore Groundwork Ohio's Early Childhood Dashboard Preview and provide feedback, click here.


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