Some lawmakers in Ohio want to provide access to preschool for all three- and four-year-olds in the state in the near future.
Ohio Sen. Teresa Fedor (D-Toledo) proposed Senate Bill 318 in March that mandates the creation of a statewide, universal pre-K program if Congress provides funds for it, according to the bill’s language.
Senate Bill 318 is dependent on President Biden’s Build Back Better plan, which has yet to be implemented and whose future is uncertain. According to Fedor’s website, if legislators adopt the idea, Ohio will get $3.3 billion for expanding daycare and establishing a universal pre-K program for 3- and 4-year-olds.
A universal pre-K program hasn’t been ironed out, but Sen. Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood) believes that offering free preschool to Ohioans is worth it, no matter how much money it will take to implement it.
“Universal pre-K, whatever the cost is, outweighs what the price tag is because the return on the investment of our children is so high,” Antonio, one of the bill’s co-sponsors, said.
According to a White House press release, just around 31% of Ohio’s preschool-aged children have access to a publicly financed pre-K program, costing families without such access $8,600 per year.
The White House estimates that if Biden’s pen touches the ink of his pen and Ohio’s Republican-dominated legislatures compel the governor to accept the federal cash, pre-K classroom doors would open to an extra 151,000 children in the state.
A staunch supporter of universal pre-K, Antonio maintained that kids who attend preschool are more likely to graduate and less likely to engage in drug addiction and criminality.
Also, Antonio believes that universal pre-K would help get more parents back to work since COVID-19 closed down many employment options for them.
Most moms with children under the age of five who are either part-time or jobless would return to work if they could obtain excellent, affordable daycare, according to a poll conducted by Groundwork Ohio in 2021.
As Antonio put it, “if we’re going to develop the workforce of tomorrow, it begins with our tiny pre-K kids today.”
It’s not assured that universal pre-K will have major short- and long-term advantages for pupils, according to Greg Lawson, a research fellow at the conservative Buckeye Institute.
By year six of the Build Back Better plan, states are obliged to provide 40 percent of the federal funds for pre-K programs, which is a problem for Lawson.
“The data is ambiguous in terms of what the actual benefit is,” Lawson said. “There’s a cost concern, but above and beyond the cost concern, is universal pre-K the right way to spend money, or are there more targeted options to better help students who are at risk or need additional resources?”
For example, a Vanderbilt University research team evaluated over 3,000 children from low-income households who were either randomly allocated to pre-K programs or maintained on a waiting control group in 2022. Lawson referred to this study as an example.
As a result of the research, individuals who attended pre-K in third through sixth grade did worse than those who were placed on a waitlist. According to a new research, children in pre-K are more likely to be reprimanded and attend school less often than their classmates.
“I think it’s going to be challenging that they’re going to put in that kind of money, again, on something where there’s sort of a mixed bag of evidence,” Lawson said.
In the end, Lawson said he would only support a pre-K program if it is based on solid research and is tailored specifically to meet the requirements of Ohio kids.
In spite of the fact that pre-advantages K’s may be difficult to discern, Jamie O’Leary noted that generally, the evidence suggests that children who attend pre-K are more likely to succeed than their counterparts who don’t.
“Overall, we know children benefit in terms of kindergarten readiness, social-emotional skills, a variety of indicators that help them succeed,” O’Leary, associate director of policy for Ohio State University’s early childhood research centers, the Crane Center and Schoenbaum Family Center, said.
Since its beginning, a Columbus universal pre-K program has shown positive outcomes for children — an encouraging indication considering that six out of ten Ohio preschoolers do not demonstrate kindergarten preparedness based on state criteria, said O’Leary.
On the city’s website, Early Start Columbus, a joint effort by Mayor Michael Nutter and the Columbus Department of Education, links families with pre-K programs for free or discounted fees.
After looking at data from 540 4-year-olds who participated in Early Start Columbus-affiliated early childhood programs between 2018 and 2019, researchers found that 85% of the children showed signs of being ready for kindergarten, compared to a state average of 59% of Ohioans who have already started school.
“High-quality pre-K is one way to get kids ready for kindergarten,” O’Leary said.
O’Leary stated the most important aspect in determining the quality of a preschool program is how well teachers are supported.
“Low wages, burnout, turnover, and morale issues,” she said. “How are we paying folks in a way that’s sustainable and investing in them and the skills that they bring as carers and nurturers and teachers?”
According to the Ohio Legislature’s website, the Senate Primary and Secondary Education Committee has yet to hold a hearing on SB 318.