COLUMBUS, Ohio — Every parent wants the assurance that when they go to work, their children are safe and being cared for by trained, nurturing professionals. Early educators not only look after our children but teach them to get along with their peers and prepare them for school.
In Ohio, quality child care and early education is out of reach for thousands of families and early educators are among the state’s lowest paid workers. That is because many local, state, and federal policymakers do not provide enough resources to support children, families, childcare workers, and child care providers.
Today, we have a child care system that is not working for anyone.
Thankfully, federal funding from the American Rescue Plan Act presents local governments an opportunity to provide both families and child care workers with some relief.
In Franklin County, the county commissioners have seized that opportunity by creating Franklin County RISE, because stable, high quality child care is critical for the wellbeing of children and families and forms the backbone of the larger workforce.
The child care system is built on low-paid labor performed mostly by women who are disproportionately Black and brown. The typical child care worker in Ohio is paid $11.17 an hour. As a result, child care workers are permanently leaving the sector.
Child care providers are serving fewer families and have longer waiting lists due to staffing shortages and recruitment and retention challenges.
According to a recent survey from Knox County, 92% of workers with children said it has been difficult to find child care and 58% said that a lack of child care is affecting a family member’s ability to work. The Knox County Area Development Foundation estimates that 1,012 people in Knox County and over 94,000 people statewide cannot work due to child care demands.
Even if they can secure a slot, many families cannot afford child care. The average cost of center-based infant care in Ohio is roughly the same cost as the average annual tuition at a public university — just over $10,000 annually.
The Franklin County commissioners used ARPA money to launch Franklin County RISE. It will help make child care more affordable for working families, support child care workers, and stabilize child care providers.
Eligible families can secure scholarships of up to $10,000 per year. Child care workers can apply for emergency rental assistance and receive an average of $3,000 to ease the cost of housing. Providers will be eligible for several incentives to support their businesses, increase slots and improve quality in the face of rising expenses.
This $26 million program is funded by Franklin County ($23 million) and the city of Columbus ($3.5 million) and administered by Action for Children, the local resource and referral agency.
Cities and counties recently received the second disbursement of federal rescue plan funds. Local lawmakers have an opportunity now to help parents get back to work, help more families afford child care, and ensure child care workers are paid better wages and benefits.
The long-term vitality of our communities depends on a child care system that works for all of us, regardless of how much money we have or where we live. We all have a shared responsibility to make sure our children grow up healthy and ready to learn.
Beyond local efforts using one-time federal relief funds, Ohioans need state and federal partners to step up now to make sure all families can afford child care, have high quality options, and a workforce that is treated and compensated with dignity and respect that all workers deserve.
For more information about the incredible Franklin County RISE program, please visit Rise.FranklinCountyOhio.gov.
Erica C. Crawley is a mother, advocate, veteran, and a Franklin County Commissioner.
Will Petrik is a budget researcher with Policy Matters Ohio.
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