This week Groundwork Ohio provided interested party testimony in support of Senate Bill 246, the Supporting Alternatives to a Fair Education (SAFE) Act to revise student expulsion procedures. Groundwork firmly believes that a change in school culture is required to 1) better meet the needs of all of Ohio’s children, particularly those who are experiencing trauma at an unprecedented rate; 2) position children for academic and life success and; 3) lay the foundation for our state’s future economic prosperity by investing in Ohio’s future workforce.
The skills gap we see in today’s workforce begins early. It is no coincidence that only 40% of Ohio kindergartners enter the classroom ready to learn and only 43% of Ohio’s workforce has a degree or credential for available jobs. We know that skills assessed in our Kindergarten Readiness Assessment (e.g. literacy and math skills, social and emotional skills, critical thinking) are predictors of future success. These skills come from healthy development and education with the foundation for skill development being laid in the earliest years. We have a critical period of time to position all Ohio children for success, but not all children have the same early experiences. Racial disparities start before a child even enters school--46.2% of white kindergarteners come to school ready to learn compared to only 23.5% of African American kindergarteners and 22.3% of Hispanic kindergartners.
As we continue to follow Ohio’s youngest students throughout their academic careers, we find that these racial gaps persist. In the last school year, there were over 34,000 suspensions and expulsions handed out to Ohio students, pre-k through third grade, the vast majority of these being for non-violent behaviors such as disruption. Considering all suspensions and expulsions given among Ohio kindergartners, black students were 7 times more likely to be disciplined than their white peers. By 2nd Grade, black students were 10 times more likely to be disciplined as white students. This unconscionable gap widens with each passing year for our most at-risk 4-8 year olds.
The SAFE Act is the change in school culture required to better meet the needs of all Ohio children by supporting schools in preparing teachers and other school professionals to be armed with the knowledge, skills, and resources to better respond to the unique needs of Ohio kids. By doing so, the SAFE Act is demanding better outcomes for all of our most at-risk young children by thoughtfully limiting the use of out-of-school suspensions and expulsions issued to Pre-K through and 3rd gradestudents and measuring a school’s progress over time to ensure accountability so that we can begin to eliminate racial disparities. The SAFE Act is critical to positioning children for academic and life success and helping to lay the foundation for our state’s future economic prosperity by investing in our future workforce.
Click here to read the full testimony.
Update: SB 216 Passes in Senate
This week, the Ohio Public School Deregulation Act (SB 216) passed unanimously off the Senate floor with a crucial amendment to preserve the Kindergarten Readiness Assessment (KRA). The amendment, offered by bill sponsor Senator Matt Huffman (R-Lima), was added after months of concern and testimony from Groundwork, along with other early childhood education advocates, that decisions concerning the administration of a statewide kindergarten readiness assessment require additional time and consideration among a wide group of stakeholders. The bill, amendment included, now moves to the House for consideration.
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On Tuesday, April 10 at 11:30 am, the Health Policy Institute of Ohio is hosting a webinar on key findings and recommendations from their report, A New Approach to Reduce Infant Mortality and Achieve Equity: Policy Recommendations to Improve Housing, Transportation, Education and Employment. Click here to register.