Working families need childcare, but it’s expensive. Cost to care for one small child averages about $700 a month in Ohio and for two kids, depending on age, it tops $1,000 a month. Even if you make $15.00 per hour, if you have two children, childcare might cost almost 40% of your monthly income.
As a coalition member, Policy Matters Ohio supports Advocates for Ohio’s Future’s request for increased state funding for public childcare and early education because it is one of the most important ways the state can support working families.
Ohio’s public childcare program, largely funded through federal dollars, helps low-income families pay the high cost of this necessary service. Families qualify to enter the program only if they earn no more than 130% of the federal poverty line, or $26,546 for a parent with two kids.
The level of initial eligibility should be higher. It needs to be restored to its former level: 200% of federal poverty. That’s the level at which families of modest income – up to 200% of the federal poverty line, or about $40,840 for a family of three – can send their pre-schoolers to public early education programs.
The state funds half-day pre-school. The problem? If the parent or parents are working, childcare is needed for the other 4 hours of the work shift. This is another reason why Ohio’s public childcare and preschool programs are not well aligned for working families and eligibility for aid with public childcare needs to be raised to 200% of poverty.
In the last budget bill, Ohio lawmakers made important improvements to Ohio’s childcare program. The state eliminated co-payment requirements for working families earning less than the federal poverty line. Lawmakers changed rules so that families can stay in the program and pay more on a sliding scale until their income rises to a level that supports a safe, decent yet modest lifestyle (300% of poverty). The legislature also implemented new federal requirements that allow a parent who loses a job extended time for a job search once a year while the child remains in childcare.
There is more to do. Children in public childcare, like those in public pre-school, need to be accepted into a classroom for a full year, regardless of what happens to Mom’s job. At present, families get up to 13 weeks once a year for a job search if they lose a job and have to find another (after that, it’s only about 30 days each time). Churning employment in the low-wage labor market makes keeping one job difficult: Temporary jobs start and stop, plants close, seasonal jobs end with the season and pink slips fly. 12-month continuous eligibility, regardless of what happens in the job market, gives parents security to replace a lost job and enhances stability for the child, who need consistent caregivers. It can also stabilize whole classrooms in low-income neighborhoods where many families receive childcare aid. Frequent turnover of students can mean too many tearful toddlers in one classroom, which disrupts learning for everyone.
The quality of the childcare provided under the state’s pubic childcare program is too often poor, because state payment rates are too low, among the most inadequate in the nation. Legislators need to raise provider rates, so childcare providers can keep qualified staff, ensure safe facilities and make it on their earnings.
The 2018-19 two-year budget proposal includes additional funding for public childcare and early education. According to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, which oversees the public childcare program, $122.2 million in additional funds for public childcare will be provided through the federal “Temporary Assistance for Needy Families” (TANF) program. An increase is also projected for the federal Child Care Development Fund line item.
The state’s allocation of additional federal funding will be available to raise provider payments for childcare businesses that have increased the quality of their care through the state’s “Step Up To Quality” program. The Legislative Service Commission’s Redbook also projects a robust increase in the monthly number of children served, but state officials have not described how funding will be allocated between increased provider payments and increased participation.
The Ohio Department of Education is another source of funding for early education programs. Although their funding for early care was curtailed in the Ohio House budget compared to Governor Kasich’s budget, which proposed funding for about 18,500 slots, funding is increased over the next two years. Only about 15,000 children are educated through state-funded early childhood education programs, as some available slots are unfilled.
Better alignment of public early education and childcare would ensure better use of state resources.
In summary, the legislature should:
1) Raise initial eligibility. We need to raise initial eligibility to 200% of the federal poverty line, phased in over several years if necessary. Struggling families working in Ohio’s huge, low-wage labor market need this public service badly.
2) Accept a child to a classroom for 12 months at a time. Change rules to allow a child to remain in a classroom for 12 months at a time, regardless of what happens to Mom’s job. This stabilizes families, allows children to adjust to a classroom and creates a more stable environment for the whole class, allowing the kids to focus on learning.
3) Fund quality by increasing provider payments. We need firmer definition around how additional federal funds allocated in the budget for public childcare and early education will increase provider rates and improve quality.
Public childcare is a service that helps children thrive, helps parents work, helps families escape poverty, and provides jobs in communities now. What’s not to support?
Wendy Patton is Senior Project Director for Policy Matters Ohio and a member of AOF’s leadership team.