Written by Susan Tebben
July 7, 2021
COLUMBUS — The removal of the Step Up to Quality child care standards system as proposed in the Ohio Senate’s version of the budget was not only against the wishes of some child care leaders, but also came without any warning.
“It was calculated,” said Dawn Blalock, co-owner of the Little Miracles Early Development Center. “It was a motive and they did it in a way to blindside everyone.”
Blalock said she had talked with legislators about the new budget plan recently, and eliminating Step Up to Quality was “not on the table.”
Step Up to Quality is a quality rating system administered by the Ohio Department of Education and the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, which seeks to maintain program standards that lead to kindergarten readiness. They also incentivize child care facilities to keep up their standards in order to receive state support.
The standards include a minimum amount of time that lead teachers interact with children, the skills that teachers and employees have in the facilities and curriculum standards.
Participants in a virtual call hosted by early learning advocacy group Groundwork Ohio said removing these standards could lead to drastic reductions in child care quality and a lack of focus on the future workforce in the state.
“If a provider is unable to get to a star rating, then I would say they shouldn’t serve state-funded children,” said Robyn Lightcap, executive director for the non-profit Dayton-Montgomery County Preschool Promise, and also serves on the Governor’s Early Childhood Advisory Council.
Business owners joined the call to promote the inclusion of Step Up to Quality in the state budget. Jane Grote Abell, chair of the board for Donatos Pizza said her employees “can not and will not come to work” without quality child care for their children.
Kevin McDonnell, CEO of Skyline Chili said child care is a “two-generation workforce issue” with access to child care crucial to helping parents care for their children, and children build the pathway for their own careers.
“As a business, we certainly depend on a trained and effective workforce to compete and succeed, but our education system can fall short in helping students succeed in business and in life,” McDonnell said.
At a press conference presenting the Senate’s version of the state budget, which also includes a revised overhaul of the public school funding formula and a 5% income tax cut, Senate President Matt Huffman, R-Lima, said Step Up to Quality “has put low-income daycare providers out of business.”
Andrea Stout, director of the Learning Tree Child Care Center in Allen County, which is connected to an area church, also spoke during the budget presentation, saying her center chose not to participate in the quality program because of the cost and the paperwork involved.
“We just are not willing to jump through the hoops, and increase the unnecessary spending to be ruled by fear of losing the ability to serve our low-income families,” Stout said. “We want to serve all of our community, and we do not want to do that by increasing the (cost for) private-paying parents.”
Blalock disputed the idea that the paperwork was prohibitive, and many of the advocates on the Groundwork Ohio call said they don’t see Step Up To Quality as a barrier to access.
“There’s no reason we should be eliminating an entire system because we need to improve some efficiency in the paperwork,” Lightcap said.
Katie Kelly, executive director of Pre4Cle, a Cleveland-area strategy to strengthen programs for kindergarten readiness spoke with education officials earlier this week on the Senate plan, calling the removal of Step Up For Quality “short sighted and extremely harmful to Ohio’s early learning.”
“These are fundamentals that all effective early childhood programs need,” Kelly said. “The Senate version (of the budget) would move us backward.”
About 4,600 messages have been sent to state policymakers expressing “outrage” over the system’s removal in the proposed budget, according to Lynanne Gutierrez, of Groundwork Ohio.