Liz Hibbs is the Director of the Early Childhood Education Alliance, also known as ECEA, and runs the SPARK program in both Alliance and Sebring, a home-based program that focuses on kindergarten readiness. Mrs. Hibbs also works with the early childhood centers in Alliance to collaborate and meet qualifications for the Step Up to Quality program and is a former Groundwork Ohio Early Childhood Leadership Fellowship fellow. Her service area includes House District 50 and Senate District 29.
As a community leader and SPARK home visiting educational provider, I firmly believe that quality early child care and education is a critical part of our nation’s infrastructure. It must be prioritized as such, and I believe that amendment SC2363 and House Bill 110 are a good start. Early childhood education and care is the cornerstone of our society and all of its functions. Businesses depend on employees, and employees need to know that their children are in a safe, nurturing environment. Unfortunately, many Ohio families cannot afford quality child care or it isn’t available to them.
Prior to the pandemic, I witnessed this in the community that I serve—Alliance, Ohio. Through meetings with local business owners, it was determined that access to quality early childhood care and education was a priority and need for both the businesses and their employees. These meetings stemmed from a letter that was written by an employee who was unable to be at work due to issues with child care. The business owners agreed to prioritize access to early childhood care and education for their employees, and then COVID arrived.
COVID compounded the issue by causing businesses to close—including early childhood centers. A lack of access to affordable child care was already an issue, and now it had become an anchor pulling down the entire ship. This wasn’t and isn’t just an Alliance problem. This is a state and national problem.
Since the pandemic began, more than 12.2 million women nationwide have lost their jobs and more than 4.6 million of them have not returned to work. In addition, access to affordable early childhood care and education has diminished. Single parents have been forced to decide between keeping a roof over their family’s heads or ensuring that their children are properly cared for during one of the most difficult times in our nation’s history since the Great Depression. Access to affordable and quality child care is necessary for both our short term and long term recovery.
As a parent, I can speak to the lack of affordable child care in Ohio. My two daughters are now 12 and 14. When they were young, I had to use my entire retirement savings to pay for their child care and early childhood education. I am now working to rebuild my retirement savings, and don’t know if I will have enough money to ever retire. If I had to do it again, I would—but shouldn’t have to do so while living in one of the richest nations in the world.
My children’s care, well being, health, and education come first—as it should. Investing in quality early childhood education and care is a shrewd business decision and economic investment. Research shows that investments in quality early childhood care and education yield a 13% return on investment. Children who have received a quality early childhood education are more likely to graduate from high school, avoid teen pregnancy, and go on to acquire a college education or become skilled in a trade. This boosts the economy and creates better citizens. If Ohio invests in its people, the people of Ohio will in turn invest in Ohio.
Investment in quality early childhood care and education impacts everyone, as it directly impacts the economy for years to come. Currently, only 41% of Ohio children come to kindergarten ready to learn. Through my work with Alliance area early childhood centers and the SPARK program, I’ve witnessed firsthand the positive impact that quality early childhood education and experiences have on children and their families.
Children in the Alliance SPARK program consistently score higher on their Kindergarten Readiness Assessment than their non-SPARK peers and meet the Language and Literacy cutoff score at a higher rate. Prior to the pandemic, 94.1% of children in the Alliance SPARK program met the Language and Literacy cutoff score on the Kindergarten Readiness Assessment, as compared to only 70% of their non-SPARK peers. Throughout the pandemic, the Alliance SPARK program continued to serve families virtually and via socially distanced lessons. Kindergarten Readiness Assessment results now show that children in the 2020 Alliance SPARK cohort were 16.5% more likely to meet the Language and Literacy cutoff score on the KRA than their non-SPARK peers. Quality early childhood education makes an impact, and that impact lasts a lifetime.
Groundwork Ohio's budget blog series features stories from child care professionals, families, business leaders, and community members on why there's an urgent need in their communities to expand access to quality child care. In the state biennial budget, Ohio legislators have the opportunity to increase eligibility for the state's publicly funded child care program from 130% of the Federal Poverty Level to 150% of the Federal Poverty Level. Read our child care budget fact sheet to learn more about why there is an urgent need to increase access to quality child care. Take action today by contacting your Senator urging their support for expanding eligibility by clicking here.