Early childhood data shows Ohio weaknesses; group pushes for investment

Vandalia-Butler recently completed a four-week summer school program that attracted 140 students from kindergarten through eighth grade. On the last day of summer school, staff planned a field day with indoor and outdoor activities.

Credit: Contributed

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Vandalia-Butler recently completed a four-week summer school program that attracted 140 students from kindergarten through eighth grade. On the last day of summer school, staff planned a field day with indoor and outdoor activities.

Credit: Contributed

An early childhood advocacy nonprofit has released a 23-page document full of statistics about why investing in early childhood education and development matters, and plan to release even more information in the first quarter of 2023.

Lynanne Gutierrez, the chief operating and policy officer for Groundwork Ohio, the organization that published the statistics, said the goal of putting up the document, which the group calls a dashboard, was to give more information to lawmakers and advocates about the need for investment in early childhood programs.

“We wanted to instill really a way to be accountable to our stakeholders to our funders and measure accountability and progress between our policymakers to young children and their families in the state,” she said.

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The preview shows many of the ways Ohio is lacking in education and outcomes for the state’s youngest children. For example, Ohio ranks 32nd of the 50 states on infant maltreatment and 39th on the percentage of children five and under who are living in poverty, according to the Groundwork Ohio Early Childhood Dashboard preview released earlier this year.

Gutierrez noted there is research supporting the idea that investing in early childhood education generally leads to better outcomes in the long term, as investments in high-quality interventions in the first five years of life yield a 13% return on investment.

She said newer research shows that people who got better care in early years have better health outcomes when they are older as well.

Advocating for young children also can help improve racial equity, she said, as the earliest years can help close the gaps where they begin. According to data from the Ohio Department of Education, less than 42% of kids were ready for kindergarten in the 2020-2021 school year.

Gutierrez said those gaps can persist and grow beyond kindergarten.

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The dashboard looks at health outcomes, like the likelihood of a child being exposed to lead paint, as well as educational outcomes.

Other early childhood education advocates have hailed the upcoming dashboard, which is expected to launch in the first quarter of 2023.

Robyn Lightcap, the executive director for Preschool Promise, and the board chair for Groundwork Ohio, said she hopes the dashboard will influence lawmakers and the public making decisions about Ohio’s youngest kids.

“I think the dashboard highlights where we have significant gaps, and my hope is it will drive that strategic investment and what makes a difference for kids,” Lightcap said.

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