An estimated 185,000 Ohio three to five year olds, about 41 percent, do not attend a preschool, nursery school or kindergarten, according to the National KIDS COUNT Data Center.
It’s a statistic state and local officials say must be cut for Ohio to build a more competitive workforce.
After three years of holding early childhood education funding levels flat, lawmakers are investing more in schools for Ohio’s youngest students. The state also is revamping its quality rating system for child care centers.
“There seems to be a consensus in the General Assembly that early childhood education is a good investment,” State Sen. Bill Beagle (R-Tipp City), a member of the Senate Education Finance Subcommittee, said.
In Fiscal 2014, Ohio boosted early childhood education funding to $136,318,341, up about 27 percent from the previous year, according to data from the state’s Office of Management and Budget.
“We’re thrilled to be able to add early childhood education funding to the budget. Is it enough? No. There is still a gap and a lot of children don’t have access,” Beagle said.
This is the third in a series of stories examining the areas of education Learn to Earn Dayton — a coalition of educators, business leaders, major foundations and politicians — have identified as critical to developing a well-trained workforce by 2025.
To improve the quality of preschools, Ohio also is moving from voluntary participation in its Step Up to Quality star rating program for state -funded early learning centers to mandatory participation. The ratings — which are expanding from a three-star system to five — recognizes early child care and education programs that meet quality benchmarks.
In 2012, there were about 276,701 children in Ohio Department of Job & Family Service licensed child care settings and an estimated 64,000 children in Ohio Department of Education licensed preschools.
“We know high quality preschool makes a big difference to children, especially children living in poverty or who have special needs,” Stephanie Siddens, the state’s director of Early Learning and School Readiness, said
Kindergarten teachers and parents agree.
“Children come in with a sense of confidence,” Helen Raines, a retired Kettering teacher said. “They come in knowing a school routine, because they have already experienced that. They come in able to do some academic activities that are necessary in a kindergarten classroom.”
Kettering resident John Eckelberry’s three-year-old son Neil attends the Mini University at Miami Valley Hospital, the first center in Montgomery County to receive a 4-star star rating under the state’s new system. Eckelberry said his son spends at least 4½ hours a day on curriculum-related activities. Even playtime is developmentally driven.
“It’s almost what I would call pre-kindergarten. It’s at that level,” Eckelberry said. “I think a quality program that is not just day care is essential for kids to succeed in school.”
Learn to Earn is focusing on improving kindergarten readiness for all children.
“National, state, and local data all shows that when kids start school kindergarten ready, their success rate in high school and college is much higher,” Robyn Lightcap, director of ReadySetSoar part of Learn to Earn Dayton, said. “It’s all about building a strong workforce and helping kids reach their potential.”
One indicator of readiness to learn is the Kindergarten Readiness Assessment—Literacy (KRA-L), the only state-mandated assessment at the start of kindergarten.
Scoring on the assessment is broken into three bands, with Band 3 being the highest level.
The percentage of students scoring in Band 3 varies widely in school districts around the region, according to Ohio Department of Education data.
The high performing Oakwood City Schools saw 74.36 percent of its students perform in Band 3, the highest percentage in the county, compared to just under 21 percent of Dayton Public Schools students, based on Fall 2011 data from the Ohio Department of Education.
Montgomery County’s scores on the KRA-L are consistently at the bottom of the list compared to other large counties in the state, according to Learn to Earn Dayton data.
Lightcap has worked for five years to launch a program that targets four year olds who are not attending preschool. The program is just getting underway in West Carrollton City Schools, where the district’s public preschool is at capacity and and a student lottery is held annually to determine who will attend.
The program will provide in-home visits to the children by a parent-partner, who will introduce preschool level activities and provide school supplies. Up to 30 students will be served this school year.
“I believe every parent, if they had the option, would want their their three- and four-year olds to attend a high quality preschool, but the reality of it is that is not an option for a lot of families. A lot of it has to do with cost, availability or transportation,” Rusty Clifford, superintendent of West Carrollton City Schools, said. “If a child can’t get to preschool for whatever reason, we need to take preschool to them.”
The goal, Lightcap said, is to duplicate the program in other school districts.
In Greene County, the Yellow Springs Exempted Village School District had 60 percent of it’s students score in Band 3, the highest in that county. Just more than 54 percent of Beavercreek students met that benchmark as did nearly 51 percent in the Bellbrook-Sugarcreek Local School District. Xenia had the lowest percentage of students in the county scoring in Band 3 with 27.57 percent.
Pat Shannon, Beavercreek’s assistant superintendent for pupil services, said the district is working in collaboration with child care centers to ensure they understand what is expected of kindergartners. Beavercrek also does it own assessment of preschoolers in the spring before kids start kindergarten to identify potential problems and strengths.
“The assessment provides a lot of information that can help parents decide if their child is ready for kindergarten,” Shannon said.