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Janresseger: State Support for Pre-Kindergarten Is Another Victim As Vouchers Drain State Tax Dollars

Yesterday, the Ohio Capital Journal‘s Susan Tebben reported some troubling numbers about Ohio children’s access to early childhood education:

“The National Institute for Early Education Research’s annual ‘state of preschool’ report showed nationwide disparities in access, quality, and funding for preschool, with Ohio sitting at 43rd in total reported spending on early education… Ohio has a total of 18,000 children enrolled in pre-K education, with 35% of the school districts offering a state-funded program… In terms of access, Ohio ranked 36th for 4-year-olds and 26th for 3-year-olds.”  Its overall investment is among the lowest of the states.

Sadly, while the new FY 24-25 state budget increased funding for preschool by $122 million over two years, the increase was not sufficient to build enrollment significantly: “Last year’s report saw Ohio in 36th for 4-year-old enrollment, but slightly lower at 27th for three-year-old enrollment.”  And, “The boost followed a reduction in the 2022-2023 school year, when state spending dropped $268 per student from the 2021-2022 year.”

Tebben adds that neither did Ohio meet the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) quality benchmarks in its requirements for “learning and development standards, curriculum supports, minimum class size and staff-to-child ratios… An associate degree is required in the state for pre-K teachers, but the NIEER benchmark is a bachelor’s degree.  For assistant preschool teachers, the Ohio requirement is a high school diploma, though NIEER sets a benchmark of a child development associate credential or equivalent credential.”   While NIERR recommends class size in pre-K to be limited to 20 students, Ohio permits a class size of 28 for 4-year-olds and 24 for 3-year-olds.

Research has shown quality pre-K programs to be transformational, especially for children living in poverty.  Clearly the availability of quality pre-K in Ohio is inadequate.  Professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley, David Kirp reviews the research about the kind of programming needed to help prepare students socially and developmentally for Kindergarten: “A high-quality program, according to early childhood education experts, features small classes and low student-teacher ratios, with well-trained teachers, an evidence-based curriculum that emphasizes hands-on learning, not eat-your-spinach instruction in the ABC’s or coloring inside the lines, and lots of time for play. The focus is on kids’ physical, social and emotional growth as well as their cognitive development. In that setting, youngsters, preferably from different social backgrounds, are solving problems together, while their teachers talk with, not at, them.”

As we read this news about Ohio’s paltry investment in pre-Kindergarten programs for children who desperately need early childhood enrichment, it’s important to consider the context.

Late in March, the Plain Dealer’s Laura Hancock reported: “As of March 18, state spending on all five scholarship (private school tuition voucher) programs was $980.4 million, with several months yet to go in the state’s fiscal year.” “State spending on private school scholarships (vouchers) has exceeded estimates by over $15 million and is inching toward the $1 billion mark.”  That’s a diversion of a billion dollars for vouchers in just the first year of the budget biennium.

Who are the students receiving these vouchers? In a March 2 report, Hancock explains that they are not poor students exiting their public schools looking  for greater opportunities.The legislature expanded the EdChoice program in the state budget by raising family income eligibility for a full voucher to 450 percent of the federal poverty level and making all Ohio children eligible by offering children in families with even higher incomes a partial private school tuition voucher. Ohio’s diversion of tax dollars from public schools is now covering private school tuition for middle and upper income students who were already enrolled in private and parochial schools with tuition previously paid by their parents.

Underfunded pre-Kindergarten programs are only one of the victims of the drain of state funding into vouchers for the wealthy.


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Jan Resseger

Before retiring, Jan Resseger staffed advocacy and programming to support public education justice in the national setting of the United Church of Christ—working ...