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Ohio ranks low in child spending, national study shows

Posted at 9:15 AM, May 07, 2022

The following article was originally published in the Ohio Capital Journal and published on under a content-sharing agreement.

A study comparing early childhood education in the nation showed reduced pre-school enrollment and stalled spending by the state to help educate young children.

The COVID-19 pandemic is still causing issues in education of pre-schoolers, but many of the problems existed before the pandemic exacerbated them, according to the National Institution for Early Education Research.

NIEER, which is affiliated with the Rutgers Graduate School of Education, conducted the annual survey to focus on how states funded preschool in 2020-2021, versus enrollment numbers in the states.

The study showed spending for preschool programs went down by more than $12 million in Ohio, and the state only met five of the 10 benchmarks for quality that the institute analyzes. It used data from the Ohio Public Preschool Program and the Ohio Department of Education’s Early Childhood Education program, which is publicly funded.

“Ohio is not within reach of serving at least 70% of 4-year-olds across state preschool, Head Start and special education,” researchers stated in the study.

Benchmarks analyzed in the study included early learning and development standards, curriculum supports, teacher and assistant teacher education, specialized training for teachers, staff professional development, class size, staff-child ratio, screening and referral, and a continuous quality improvement system.

Ohio only met institution benchmarks in early learning and development standards, curriculum supports, specialized teacher training, screening and referrals, and its continuous quality improvement system.

Ohio spends $4,000 per child, ranking them 33rd in the nation in state spending on pre-schoolers. Enrollment numbers collected by NIEER showed only 2% of 3-year-olds were enrolled in pre-school in 2020-2021, and only 9% of 4-year-olds went to pre-school in the same year.

The state began allowing 3-year-old enrollment to preschool pre-pandemic, in 2016-2017.

Nationally, nearly 300,000 fewer children were enrolled in preschool, mainly because of pandemic health risks, school closures, and remote learning. But some states increased spending to try to preserve capacity, using federal pandemic aid.

In Ohio, more than $72 million in funding was made available, but only $60 million was used with decreased enrollment. According to the NIEER study, only 58% of state school districts offer the state pre-school programming.

Preschool funding only received state funding, compared to K-12 funding that receives contributions from local sources such as levies, as well as state and federal contributions. In the same years studied by NIEER, K-12 funding received $14,930 in per-child spending among all contributions, compared to just $4,000 from the state for pre-school education.

Unlike some states, Ohio didn’t use any of its federal funding provided through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families money for pre-school education, according to the study. Gov. Mike DeWine did, however, recently sign an executive order allocating more than $1.5 million from the state TANF dollars from the “Parenting and Pregnancy Program” to “organizations providing services for pregnant women and parents, or other relatives caring for children, that promote the goals of the TANF program, as well as childbirth, parenting and alternatives to abortion.”

This is all amid a battle between the state and education officials to overhaul the state public school funding system. The Ohio Education Association and the Ohio Federation of Teachers have pushed over the last several years for the “Fair School Funding” plan to be fully funded. State legislative leaders passed a piece of the education overhaul in the most recent budget bill, but said they couldn’t fully fund the six-year phase-in of the project because it took away the power of spending decision-making from future general assemblies.