Some conservative Ohio lawmakers and some faith leaders who generally support conservative causes want to put millions of additional dollars into more preschool for at risk children, something a lot of Democrats have championed in the past, and the push is on at the Ohio Statehouse to get more money for early childhood education.
The Executive Director of the Christian Educators Association International says studies repeatedly show it’s a matter of pay me now or pay me later when it comes to investments in early childhood education. Finn Laursen says studies show 3 and 4 year olds who get good quality preschool grow up to have reduced fewer children out of wedlock and more well adjusted parents. And he says that, in turn, saves taxpayers money. Laursen says studies show right now, that’s something Ohio needs.
"Ohio is ranked the 4th highest of taxpayer burden for divorce and unwed childbearing of all states in the nation," says Laursen. "We have California at the top, New York second, Texas third and Ohio is fourth. That’s not a good distinction. That’s costing 2.7 billion dollars to taxpayers in Ohio each and every year for unwed childbearing and divorce."
Republican State Representative Andy Brenner says he’s one of the more conservative members of the Ohio legislature. He says expanding early education opportunities for 3 and 4 year olds makes good sense and good financial sense.
"You know the taxpayers in my district which are some of the wealthiest in the state if not the nation, we are always feeling like we are subsidizing a lot of schools that are failing. Well if you can help these students out before they are even in kindergarten, that’s going to help them in the long run. And that will in the long run lower everybody’s taxes and improve the economy in those areas," says Brenner.
Brenner and other members of the Ohio House have put five million dollars in the proposed state budget, specifically set aside to provide money for three and four year olds to get preschool. Republican Senator Peggy Lehner says this money would target at risk kids.
"This program is targeted at the kids with greatest risk, 200% of poverty or less that we have good reason to believe are not going to be able to pass the first band in the kindergarten readiness tests," says Lehner. "They will be given a voucher to attend wherever there is a spot in a quality preschool program and I stress the word quality."
Lehner says preschools are being ranked right now under the federal race to the top program. And she says those that land on top will be considered quality preschools. She says the money could be used for vouchers for private preschools that make the cut or to provide more spots in high quality public preschools. But with an average preschool cost of 48 hundred dollars a year for a child in Ohio, she says there is a real need to get far more than the five million additional dollars that have been set aside by the house. She says 100 million is needed. And when her fellow senators get the budget back from the house, she wants them to come up with those dollars somehow.
"We have come in very late in the budget process with this request," says Lehner. "Frankly most dollars have been spent in this budget. So in order to reach the 100 million we’d like to reach, it’s going to mean taking money from some other program. That’s going to be difficult. We may not be able to get it done in this budget. We will get every penny we can. We will dig and scratch and find as much as we can. We will back next year with a movement that is growing stronger and stronger every day."
Lehner says lawmakers will expand the program as much as possible for now. But she notes there are 130 thousand children in Ohio who are eligible for state subsidized preschool, and currently around six thousand children are being served by public preschools. Lehner and the others who support this plan say it’s imperative to get as many of those children as possible into quality preschool programs as soon as possible.