State lowers rating requirement for Step Up to Quality child care program

CINCINNATI (WKRC) – The state has delayed some of its quality requirements for Ohio’s child care system. Its Step Up to Quality program makes sure kids from low-income families are given the same learning opportunities as others.

The pandemic took a hit on Ana Harris and her family.

“You know how it is. You make just enough but barely just enough to pay for anything extra,” Harris said.

Harris and her husband are working less but still trying to make ends meet for their young son and daughter.

“I was really on the fence of taking him and having him miss his last year of preschool, which I really didn’t want to do,” she said.

Harris was confident the caliber of her son’s West Side preschool was making a difference. She applied for assistance from the state’s Step Up to Quality program, which helped her afford the last year.

“Without that quality of teachers in the program, he wouldn’t have been ready for kindergarten. I took him this year to do his readiness test for kindergarten, and he knew everything,” Harris said.

Step Up to Quality makes sure lower-income families have access to quality education. 4C for Children President Vanessa Freytag said it’s based on a five-star rating.

“The first two stars are when the program is learning about quality practices. When you get to stars 3, 4 and 5, you are at high quality,” Freytag said.

The rating system will stay with a one-star minimum instead of rising to a three-star minimum. Ohio Senate President Matt Huffman thinks the high standards could reduce options.

“It essentially put a lot of day care providers out of business or kept them from accepting publicly funded children if you had a bigger day care center,” Huffman said.

4C for Children said the data disagrees.

“There’s actually equal or more seats for publicly funded children now and Step Up to Quality than if you went back a few years,” Freytag said.

Freytag said about 50% of the region’s child care centers have reached a three-star rating.

“Insisting that just a one-star be met is not adequate. You can talk with child care programs, teachers, parents. They will all tell you there is a world of difference for children when they get proper educational grounding before they get to school,” Freytag said.

The state budget established a study committee to review the program.

Huffman’s office said it’ll recommend updates and prepare for a potential $650-million funding issue in three years.

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