Multiracial group of small children with teacher sitting on floor and learning about space together at kindergarten.
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BY: SUSAN TEBBEN – Ohio Capital Journal

As policymakers await the newest budget priorities to be laid out by Gov. Mike DeWine, advocates for the state’s children are hoping comprehensive child well-being will be at the top of the list.

The Ohio Children’s Budget Coalition released their policy agenda for the 2024-2025 state budget, which they hope will include whole-child services to address housing, health, child care, economic stability, and adoption of the Fair School Funding Plan, which was only approved for two years of the six-year phase-in so far.

“Children do not come in pieces, and neither should the policies and investments that crucially provide and pave the way for them to grow and flourish into successful adulthood,” said Katherine Ungar, senior policy associate with the Children’s Defense Fund-Ohio.

Recommendations by the OCBC also targeted structural racism, the effects of which “negatively impact child outcomes,” according to the announcement of budget priorities.

“The budget is a moral document that reflects our state’s priorities,” OCBC co-leader and Children’s Defense Fund-Ohio policy associate Matthew Tippit said in a statement.

The policy report also laid out challenges to combatting the teacher shortage the state has suffered from for several years, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics stating 21,000 fewer teachers were employed in K-12 public school in the state from September 2021 to September 2019.

The state has faced recruitment and retention issues, which the coalition attributes to “mounting pressures related to the COVID-19 pandemic, under-resourced schools, politicization of education and lack of respect for educators and the education profession.”

“While a mass exodus of experienced educators from the teaching profession has not yet materialized, it is cause for significant concern when so many are expressing deep frustrations over what they believe is a lack of support and respect for the work they do with students,” the report stated.

 Groundwork Ohio

The policy recommendations also come on the heels of a recent early childhood dashboard released by the advocacy group Groundwork Ohio. The dashboard has been in the works since 2021 to “help inform policy makers about the realities facing Ohio families with young children.”

Groundwork Ohio president and CEO Shannon Jones said the dashboard “tells us where to focus on making positive change for infants, toddlers and preschoolers.”

The report found that one in five Ohio infants don’t have access to child care or early learning and six in 10 children aren’t ready to attend school based on kindergarten readiness, fourth-grade reading proficiency and eighth-grade math proficiency.

Racial issues appeared as part of Groundwork Ohio’s analysis, with the group finding that infant mortality rates are still above the U.S. average in Ohio “with a large and appalling racial disparity.”

“While there are many ways we can begin to improve outcomes for young children, focusing state efforts on its very youngest citizens is an urgent moral imperative as well as a wise state investment,” according to the report.

The organization was encouraged by state performance in areas like eighth grade math proficiency and improved homeless students and housing cost burdens.

Early investments are needed to benefit Ohio children throughout their lives, the dashboard concluded as state performance compared to the rest of the country was worse in categories such as early intervention service access and young child poverty.

Large disparities were found particularly in Black, Hispanic and Native American/American Indian children living below the poverty level.

The state has also worsened in terms of kindergarten literacy, chronic absenteeism and special needs preschools, according to the dashboard.

Susan Tebben is an award-winning journalist with a decade of experience covering Ohio news, including courts and crime, Appalachian social issues, government, education, diversity and culture. She has worked for The Newark Advocate, The Glasgow (KY) Daily Times, The Athens Messenger, and WOUB Public Media. She has also had work featured on National Public Radio.

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