Ohio's five-star education rating program, Step Up To Quality, faces possible cut

Posted at 8:20 AM, Dec 23, 2021

CLEVELAND — The five-star rating program, Step Up To Quality, helping set the standard for your child’s education could be at risk, according to a measure approved by Ohio’s General Assembly.

The worry of a mom comes naturally, and for Leah Ross, that worry started to build years ago during her search for childcare.

“We live in the city and our neighborhood it is hard; It’s really hard. I think overall like generationally there’s been a divestment from our community and it shows,” she said. “The energy and the investment is not always there.”

After committing to a commute and financial assistance, she and her husband enrolled their kid at The Music Settlement.

“For families, in order for them to work and for them to work they need to have a trusted place for their child to be so that when they’re at work, they’re at work and they know that their child is in good hands,” Karen Heitlinger, Early Childhood Chair, Music Settlement.

The daycare rated five stars through the state’s Step Up to Quality program, which started in 2012.

“We were part of the pilot program, so we helped define for the state what quality looked like,” Heitlinger said.

To participate and earn stars, programs must offer research-based curriculum, outreach programs and professional development. Employees must also have certain levels of education.

“It’s helpful to communicate to parents what to look for,” said Heitlinger.

However, with approval from Governor Mike DeWine, the program could be cut through December 2022 as the state looks to get more parents back to work full-time and expand childcare options.

“To take this opportunity to then try to dismantle a system that was set up for equality is an injustice to the children,” said Nancy Mendez, Starting Point CEO.

The change was added as an amendment to Ohio HB 169, which details the $639 million in government funding allocated for child care providers. Mendez says dismantling decades of early education standards and research puts children and their development growth at risk.

“Here we are at a point with a crisis with covid and a crisis with a staffing shortage and the one thing we want to do is then remove quality. It's going to hurt our children. It's going to hurt them now and hurt them as adults later on.”

Mendez hopes one of the solutions requires more community involvement and possibly input from business professionals who can help guide many childcare providers through surviving.

For parents like Ross, childcare remains essential, but she says it shouldn’t add to her constant worry of her children.

“It should be more than babysitting. It should be teaching wonder, teaching curiosity, teaching early literacy like learning how to do the basic things that create a love for learning,” she said. “When we are put at such a disadvantage of having choices we are putting a choice on our kids that determines so much of their future.”