State lawmakers shouldn’t gut Step Up to Quality
By Peggy Lehner

The Dayton region should be furious that state lawmakers may gut one of the best things Ohio has ever done for young children and families who work outside the home.

For a decade now, Ohio has worked to incentivize and reward child care programs and preschools that serve children experiencing poverty for improving their quality. The goal of this strategy is to increase number of children who come to kindergarten ready to learn. Only about 4 in 10 Ohio young learners start school fully ready — and the percentage is even less in Montgomery County. (Depending on the year, Montgomery County’s number hovers around 36%.)

In recognition of the fact children who start school behind invariably stay behind, our community has spent millions over the last 10 years supplementing the state’s work to improve young children’s early learning. Most notably, Montgomery County, Kettering and Dayton were first investors in Preschool Promise, which, among other things, provides evidence-based training for early childhood teachers; helps programs afford strong curriculum; and coaches teachers in the classroom. Local dollars also have helped families afford to send their children to preschool, which for low- and moderate-income families is a tremendous financial struggle.

All this local investment has complemented and built on the state’s Step Up to Quality initiative that recognizes programs that hire well-educated teachers and commit to things proven to increase children’s learning.

Now, some lawmakers want to swoop in and eliminate Step Up to Quality and incentives that have made it possible for child care programs to afford to do what’s best for children. The critics’ uninformed view is that all child care is equal, and babysitting is good enough.

This backward notion violates common sense and everything science tells us about the importance of teaching and nurturing young children — especially children experiencing poverty.

Having served as Chairman of the Senate Education Committee for a decade, I know how much blood, sweat and tears have gone into building Step Up to Quality. I was a huge proponent of ensuring any money the state invests in young children should only go to quality programs. We should not be giving taxpayer dollars to programs that just warehouse children.

Because of Step up to Quality, many child care programs have earned Step Up to Quality Star Ratings that validate their commitment to quality. Why would we want to retreat from this work when outside independent researchers have concluded children in Star- Rated programs are more ready for kindergarten? Ending the requirement our neediest children must receive quality early learning flies in the face of mountains of research.

If we care about children, if we want parents to take jobs, if we want employers to be able to hire workers they desperately need, we have to commit to quality child care.

Eliminating Step Up to Quality would be one of the most backward-thinking decisions Ohio could ever make.

As an Ohio state senator for 10 years, Peggy Lehner represented much of Montgomery County. She chaired the Senate Education Committee.