State funding cuts could hinder preschoolers

Published 9:46 am Friday, June 5, 2009

IRONTON — Nearly 125 children in Lawrence County who attend preschool and come from low-income, working families could be searching for a new place to learn come 2010.

In all, more than 4,000 children and their parents at 99 contracted agencies in 79 counties statewide could lose after budget cuts started last month chopped $244 million in state aid to early-care and educational programs for low-income parents and their preschool children.

The cuts target a year-round program called the Early Learning Initiative. The statewide curriculum, which the Ironton-Lawrence County Community Action Organization’s Head Start agency is a part of, subsidizes preschool day care for working parents.

If the aid is cut, parents who can not afford day care would be forced to pull their preschoolers out of the programs or find alternate funding options. Contracted centers included home-based licensed child care providers, educational service centers, public schools and Head Start agencies.

The Early Learning Initiative program targets children primarily in the 3 to 6-year-old range with at least 24 hours a week of preschool instruction and day care. In return, the state reimburses organizations like the CAO a little more than $10,000 per child annually.

Along with learning and interaction, the Early Learning Initiative program assesses children’s health and development, which include screenings for height, weight, vision and dental as well as speech, language and fine motor skills development.

In 2008, 199 children who attended the Ironton-Lawrence County Heap Start agency received both health and developmental screenings according to the Ohio Department of Education.

Parents are funded and pay on a sliding percentage scale based on what they can afford. Most pay little or nothing. The program was founded by a surplus in welfare monies and does have enough funding to continue through 2009.

However, the Ohio General Assembly, trying to shore up a ballooning deficit, only allocated two-thirds of ELI’s previous funding for the 2010-2011 state budgets.

As to how much the Ironton-Lawrence County CAO would stand to lose in funding and the effects the proposed cuts would have on preschoolers and their parents’ currently remains a mystery.

Calls and messages to the CAO Head Start Director Sharon Daniels by The Tribune on this matter were not returned.

Others outside of Lawrence County are concerned.

“The strongest effects of high-quality, curriculum-based, early childhood programs are found with at-risk children — children from homes with the fewest resources and under social and economic stress,” said Mark Rickel of Lesic & Camper which serves as media group for a grassroots campaign trying to get funding restored.

According to the Ohio Department of Education, ELI programs are making progress in meeting health and developmental screening requirements and early literacy development.