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Preschool Priority: Navigating Challenges and Forging Partnerships for Ohio's Children

By Troy Hunter, Director of Research, Evaluation, and Performance, Groundwork Ohio Follow Troy on LinkedIn

Quality preschool education in a child's early years shapes their future success. However, in Ohio, there's still a pressing need to improve access to high-quality preschool programs. The state of preschool in Ohio shows that despite some progress, many children in the state lack the enriching experiences that quality preschool education provides. Inattentiveness to the importance of preschool could jeopardize opportunities for thousands of vulnerable children, emphasizing the need for continued advocacy and support. Inequities in access persist among different communities and it is Ohio’s most vulnerable children that are disproportionately impacted. Public-private preschool partnerships provide potential solutions to champion quality preschool experiences.

The State of Preschool in Ohio

While there have been significant strides, there remains a pressing need for improved access to high-quality preschool programs. Many children across the state still lack the opportunity to benefit from the enriching experiences that quality preschool education provides. Only 37.9 percent of students in 2021-2022 demonstrated kindergarten readiness. Ohio also saw a decrease in children on track for literacy.

Recent developments in Ohio include the expansion of existing early childhood education grants. This expansion signifies a step in the right direction, as it opens more spots to serve preschool-aged children, helping them gain the foundation they need to thrive academically and socially.

Barriers for Preschoolers

However, as we celebrate increased investment, we must also address the threats gathering at the national level. Proposed cuts to Head Start and Early Head Start programs threaten to strip Ohio of thousands of slots for vulnerable children. This potential loss highlights the need for continued advocacy and support to protect these vital programs. In Cuyahoga County, hiring challenges have led to the heartbreaking closure of 23 Head Start classrooms. This serves as a reminder that we are far from achieving equitable access across the state.

More than 500 children lost access to quality early childhood experiences that impact long-term outcomes and opportunities. With a national attack on Head Start and Early Head Start through proposed budget cuts of $750 million in FY24, it is important that we strengthen the infrastructure supporting our youngest learners. If Ohio does not invest, then it is children of color and children living in poverty that will be the most impacted.

Access and Equity

Disparities in preschool access persist in Ohio, reinforcing the need to emphasize that every child, regardless of their background, deserves an equal opportunity to excel.

It is important that we talk about equity when looking at preschool across the state, as partnerships can play a critical role in elevating the issue and address the barriers where populations of children have limited access. As we discuss how to support all preschoolers in Ohio, we must emphasize the ALL.

“Strategic partnerships are important to ensure there is equitable access to preschool. Using an equity lens matters in the ongoing work to provide a solid foundation for all preschoolers. A commitment to equity is essential to building partnerships that bring early childhood education to the forefront and provide access for all preschoolers.”

-Chara Fisher Jackson, Cincinnati Preschool Promise

Public-Private Preschool Partnerships

As we confront these challenges head-on, public-private preschool partnerships emerge as a promising avenue for progress. Successful partnerships have a positive impact on preschool education. Collaborative efforts between public and private entities can help ensure that more children benefit from quality preschool experiences.

“Our country is behind in its investment in early childhood education. We are extremely fortunate in Montgomery County to have private foundations that have invested for many years, as well as public leaders who put a stake in the ground by dedicating public dollars to make sure our children can attend high-quality preschool. The combination of private and public dollars has funded our early childhood initiative since the beginning, and it continues to help us address the needs of families and early childhood providers. The local funding allows us to fill in gaps where public funding falls short.”

-Robyn Lightcap, Preschool Promise

The state of preschool education in Ohio is a mix of progress and persistent challenges. Our children's futures are at stake, and the earlier we act the higher the return on investment we see, which benefits both Ohio’s children and its economy.

If you would like to learn more about how public-private preschool partnerships are helping to bridge the gap to serve children, Groundwork Ohio is hosting a free webinar Wednesday, September 13th from 2:30-3:30 pm. This webinar will feature innovative initiatives from across the state working to increase access and support preschoolers, with a special update from the Ohio Department of Education. Join Preschool Promise, Cincinnati Preschool Promise, PRE4CLE, Invest in Children, and Hope Toledo as they discuss ways we can use partnerships in Ohio to address barriers and increase accessibility. Take action today and register for this webinar.

Let's ensure that every child in Ohio has equitable access to quality preschool education, setting them on a path to lifelong success. Our children deserve nothing less, and they are counting on us to secure an opportunistic future.


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