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Work still to be done for Ohio’s early childhood education, study shows


Work still to be done for Ohio’s early childhood education, study shows

Jun 05, 2023 | 4:45 am ET
By Susan Tebben
Work still to be done for Ohio’s early childhood education, study shows
Two small girls friends playing with wooden marble run indoors in kindergarten. Getty Images.

Access to early intervention and early childhood special education are “far from uniform” in Ohio and the nation, according to a national study.

The National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers Graduate School for Education conducted a state-by-state comparison of services “critical to improve learning and development” for children with special needs aged 3 to 5.

The study found that Ohio only served 2.6% of children eligible for early intervention and early childhood special education, and children of color are less likely to receive the services than white children.

“The disparities are largest for Black children and cannot plausibly be explained by need,” the NIEER wrote.

Ohio participation is lower than the national rate, which stands at 3.7%, according to the study. Massachusetts had the highest usage rate at 10%, with Arkansas and Hawaii scoring the lowest at 1%.

The study does attribute some of the access issues to the COVID-19 pandemic, with the number of children receiving early intervention dropping by 14,000 children nationally between Fall 2019 and Fall 2020.

Asian children saw the largest decrease in EI services in Ohio, while Black children dropped the most in ECSE, according to the study.

Researchers for the study said the lack of equity in early childhood education should indicate vast needs in the area, in Ohio and nationwide.

“Racial disparities in services – particularly lower rates of participation for Black children – should be ringing alarm bells across the nation,” said Dr. Steven Barnett, Rutgers professor of education and co-director of the NIEER.

The study follows another NIEER study which recently ranked Ohio 36th in preschool enrollment at age 4, and 27th in enrollment at age 3.

That report pressed for universal preschool in Ohio, and the report on early childhood education urged more federal investment in the programs.

“Access to EI and ECSE should not depend on the wealth of the state in which a child lives,” said Dr. Allison Friedman-Krauss, Ph.D., lead author of the report. “Additional federal funding, as is included in President (Joe) Biden’s proposed budget, is needed urgently to begin to reduce these disparities.”

State advocates are hoping to see investment in the state budget as well. The budget is currently under review by the Ohio Senate, but before the governor sent his executive proposal earlier this year, the Ohio Children’s Budget Coalition set a policy agenda to include whole-child services in a budget the group said should be “a moral document that reflects our state’s priorities.”

Policy group Groundwork Ohio has also pushed for more early learning intervention in state budget with their research funding six in 10 Ohio children unready to attend school and one in five Ohio infants without access to child care or early learning.

In the current version of the budget, $130.3 million would be appropriated for early childhood education in each of the next two fiscal years.

Earmarks of up to $20 million proposed by the governor in his initial executive budget would go toward early childhood education. The Ohio House added an earmark of up to $1.1 million for the SPARK program, which is meant to help preschoolers become kindergarten-ready through reading assistance.

Also in the current budget bill, $2.7 million in earmarks would go to early learning assessment.