A group of children are indoors in their preschool classroom. The camera focuses on a boy who is playing with wooden building blocks.

BY:  Ohio Capital Journal

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine used his recent State of the State speech to proclaim the importance of child care and education, but a national report released last week ranks Ohio near the bottom of the country in preschool spending.

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 the early education.

“Most states have not committed to serving all children, and even those states that have often fall short,” W. Steven Barnett, senior co-director and founder of NIEER at Rutgers University, said in a statement. “Most states need to increase funding per child substantially to enable providers to meet minimal standards for a high-quality, effective program.”

The report called inadequate funding “a near universal problem.”

Barnett did praise a 2023 increase in state-level funding of $122 million over two years as part of the most recent state budget, as well as a $250 increase in per-pupil funding, the first in the state since 2009. Ohio ranked 36th in state-specific spending on preschool in the new report, which specifically studied the Ohio Department of Education and Workforce’s publicly funded Early Childhood Education program for the 2022-2023 school year.

 Source: National Institute for Early Education Research 

That boost followed a reduction in the 2022-2023 school year, when state spending dropped $268 per child from the 2021-2022 year.

“We encourage Ohio to keep up the progress, as much work remains to provide access to full-day, adequately funded early learning opportunities that will help children develop and parents earn a living,” Barnett wrote in a release on the new data.

Ohio has a total of 18,000 children enrolled in pre-K education, with 35% of the school districts offering a state-funded program. The federally funded Head Start program for ages 3 and 4 has a state enrollment of 24,649. No state contributions go to the Head Start program for 3 or 4 year olds, according to the study.

Nationally, preschool enrollment rose to 35% of 4-year-olds and 7% of 3-year-olds, with overall state expenditures increasing by 11% compared to 2021-2022 data.

“However, despite this notable progress, most states still fell short of their pre-pandemic preschool enrollment,” NIEER stated.

In terms of access, Ohio ranked 36th for 4-year-olds and 26th for 3-year-olds.

Last year’s report saw Ohio in 36th for 4-year-old enrollment, but slightly lower at 27th for three-year-old enrollment.

In the 2024 research, Ohio only met half of the 10 benchmarks noted in the report.

Benchmarks met by the state in the most recent NIEER report included early learning and development standards; curriculum supports; specialized training for teachers; screening and referral; and its continuous quality improvement system.

Researchers found the state hadn’t met benchmarks in teacher degrees, assistant teacher degrees, staff professional development, maximum class size and staff-to-child ratios. This data was identical to last year’s met and unmet benchmarks for Ohio.

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 the NIEER sets a benchmark of a child development associate credential or equivalent credential.

Maximum class size set in Ohio is 24 for 3-year-olds and 28 for 4-year-olds, though NIEER recommends 20 or lower.

Susan Tebben

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.

Ohio Capital Journal is part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.


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