Robyn Lightcap: Investing in Child Care is an Investment in Ohio's Future

Robyn Lightcap is the Executive Director of Preschool Promise, Inc., in Montgomery County, Ohio, and the Chair of the Board of Directors for Groundwork Ohio, a statewide advocacy organization for early learning.


Montgomery County’s leaders believe that all children deserve to start kindergarten on track, thereby setting them up for success in school and beyond. That’s why they’re investing in Preschool Promise.


The goals of Preschool Promise are to increase access to affordable, high-quality early learning and to improve the teaching and care children receive. In addition to helping families find and afford preschool, we work with preschools, childcare programs, and community partners to provide exceptional training, coaching and support to early learning professionals. Our work is supported by local governments, business leaders, K-12 leaders and other stakeholders.


But local support is not enough. To build a high-quality and sustainable early learning system, we also need federal and state leaders to invest in young children — when their brains are developing fastest and the foundation for all of their later learning is being built.


This month a coalition of Dayton leaders testified before the Ohio Senate Health Committee to advocate for increased funding for quality childcare in the biennial budget, HB 110.


Montgomery County data show that children who attend centers that are highly rated under Ohio’s Step Up to Quality rating system are better prepared for kindergarten and score higher on 3rd-grade reading assessments. Representatives of banking, the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce, and community supporters spoke about the return on investment in quality early learning as well as why quality childcare is critical for employers who need workers to be on the job.


Far too many families are barely earning enough to get by, but do not qualify for Ohio’s Publicly Funded Child Care subsidies. What if you make 50 cents per hour too much to qualify for childcare assistance? Do you continue to work? Do you cut back your hours to stay under the income threshold? If you choose to leave the workforce, how do you feed your children? These are critical questions Ohio families are asking.


Currently, Ohio families must earn 130% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) or less to qualify for help to pay for childcare. This limit makes it extremely hard for many parents to take jobs or, once they do, to accept promotions or work overtime. An amendment, SC2363, to the budget bill is before the Ohio Senate to increase eligibility to 150% of the poverty level. After a year of hardships and high unemployment, now is the time for Ohio to increase the eligibility level to receive Publicly Funded Child Care.


What does expanding child care eligibility to 150% of the FPL mean for families?


I recently spoke with a single mom in Montgomery County who has one child. She works at one of our large hospital networks. She makes $15 per hour, or $31,200 a year. She can’t afford to pay for childcare, which takes 1/3 of her gross income. For her, working doesn’t pay. Understandably, she is only going to work if she has a safe and enriching place for her child while she’s on the job.


If we want people to be financially independent, they have to have access to affordable quality childcare. With full-time childcare costing $200 or more per week, many families can’t possibly afford to pay out-of-pocket. We are giving families who are trying to be self-sufficient and pay their own way an impossible choice — and we are setting them up to fail.


To recover from this pandemic, we must invest in families. They want to work. They want to help bring back our economy. With nearly $1.3 billion in American Rescue Plan Act funding coming to Ohio for childcare, we can make a significant down payment on improving children’s future. Young children, families, businesses, and communities cannot wait any longer for this relief — they need action now.

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.