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Dozens of Butler County preschools at risk of losing state funding

Posted at 4:55 AM, Sep 26, 2019
and last updated 2019-09-26 04:55:51-04

The clock is ticking for Butler County preschools that want to be certified by the state.

There are 120 providers in the county who serve families with publicly funded childcare, and 50 of them, or 42 percent, are at risk of losing the ability to accept state funds when new rules go into effect in nine months, said Vanessa Freytag, president and CEO 4C for Children.

On a five-star rating scale, providers will be required to earn at least one star by July 2020 to receive per-child funding from the state, and three stars by 2025, Freytag said Wednesday during a Butler County United Way meeting at Miami University Regionals in Hamilton.

After July 1, 2020, any childcare agency that does not have a star rating under Ohio’s Step Up to Quality program will no longer be able to bill the state.

Freytag said 4C for Children is the rating agency for two regions in Ohio: Miami Valley and the local region that includes Butler, Warren, Clermont, Hamilton and Clinton counties.

Ohio allocates more than $630 million per year to subsidized childcare — $400 million of it is federal pass-through money — which helps fund centers that serve more than 100,000 Ohio children. The voucher system subsidizes care based on a sliding scale, with higher-income families paying a greater share of the cost.

The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services last year released a study that found “there is evidence that sites with higher star ratings (three stars or higher) are associated with better child outcomes.”

The rating system has existed since 2012, when lawmakers tied it to a major education reform bill, Senate Bill 314.

Right now, 2,649 children are enrolled in state-assisted preschool programs in Butler County, and 1,981 of them are enrolled in programs with at least one star. So, if the ratings don’t improve before July 2020, nearly 700 children and their families will be seeking early childhood education opportunities.

That will only add to the strain put on working, low-income families, Freytag said. She said parents of hundreds of children could be forced to find new providers — and fight to get one of the available slots in rated centers.

“An urgent issue” is how Freytag described the situation.

While Freytag called these statistics “really disturbing,” she said “there is hope.”

She said as of Dec. 31, 2018, 41 percent of the county’s providers had a rating of at least one star, but the percentage rose to 60 percent last month thanks to the support from the United Way.

“There will be success stories at the end of this journey,” she said.

Also at the meeting, Mag Baker, president and CEO of Butler County United Way, recognized Carol Hauser as Volunteer of the Year and LIVE UNITED Partnership Award to Connector Manufacturing.

The Journal-News is a media partner of WCPO 9 On Your Side.