Earlier this month, Ohio’s State Board of Education expressed its support for early childhood spending through two actions. The first was approval of a budget plan that would protect the state’s early childhood program in the event of budget cuts. The second is found in a document outlining priorities for additional funding—should there be any available—and includes early childhood among five other areas. Let’s talk more about each of these and why it matters.
As Gongwer News Service reports, the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) was required to put forth two budgetary plans—one that anticipates flat-funding in next year’s budget, and another based on a 10% reduction. Under the latter scenario, ODE wants to protect early childhood funding by limiting cuts to just 5 %. That is, even though the state’s early childhood grant might be reduced in the next biennium and ultimately serve fewer preschool students, Ohio’s state education agency is doing its best to limit cuts to that domain. Several other program areas—including assessments, standards, adult diplomas, and literacy improvement—receive hypothetical cuts of 10 to 13% under ODE’s recommendations. Still other program areas remain outside of the bounds of what the department is allowed to make funding recommendations on; for example, special education spending remains untouched in order to meet federal maintenance of effort requirements.
Under a flat-funding plan, the state’s early childhood program would receive $68.1 million; under the 10 percent cut plan, it would be funded at $64.7 million (5% less than current allocations). To put this into perspective, current funding levels enable the state to serve 18,400 eligible four-year-olds.
The document outlining the State Board’s priorities, titled “considerations for additional funding,” goes a step further. Should additional funds be available, the State Board of Education names early childhood first among its key priorities, explaining:
In the FY18-19 budget, funding for economically disadvantaged children to access high-quality early childhood education remained constant in comparison to FY17, sufficient to serve an estimated 18,400 four-year-olds annually. Ohio should increase its investment to serve more students in quality early childhood education settings. Research demonstrates the importance of kindergarten readiness, and quality early childhood education experiences contribute to such readiness, especially for low-income children. There continues to be significant demand to serve additional children in quality preschool settings…
The other five priorities listed are: school improvement; meeting the needs of the whole child; teacher and school-level professional development and supports; literacy; and department operational needs. These priorities aren’t surprising: They are already outlined in the state’s new strategic plan. But it is still encouraging, given that the additional funding requests made by the agency two years ago did not include early childhood funding.
Even more encouraging is that this occurs at the same time that both gubernatorial candidates are expressing support for new investments in early childhood. That is, the next governor may actually make good on this priority in his executive budget early next year.
Of course, these plans could be overturned or changed by the legislature during the budgetary process, but it shouldn’t be understated how important it is to have leadership coming from the executive branch when it comes to funding priorities. For the first time in a long time, Ohio has leaders at multiple levels of government pointing to the importance of early childhood investments—and that’s a big deal.
Kudos to State Superintendent DeMaria and State Board of Education members for affirming early childhood funding as a priority. And here’s to hoping that Ohio’s next governor and members of the General Assembly—who ultimately hold power over deciding state’s budget priorities—will feel the same.