COLUMBUS, Ohio (WSYX) — The Franklin County Board of Commissioners unveiled its RISE initiative on Thursday that will give child care a $22 million boost over two years.
The partnership with Action For Children is designed to support Franklin County and Columbus families who are struggling to pay for child care as well as help child care providers and staff.
Community leaders said this is the most significant investment ever in the local early childhood learning system and builds on earlier funding from the City of Columbus. The money comes from the American Rescue Plan and is intended to help families who are facing the “benefits cliff” in which they make too much to qualify for Publicly Funded Child Care (PFCC) but too little to actually afford child care, as well as the early learning centers and teachers on which they rely.
Franklin County Commissioner Erica Crawley said teachers are brain architects but are some of the lowest-paid professionals in the state.
“We want them to know that there are resources available to help lift the burden they are facing,” Crawley said.
Child care centers are feeling the pinch, especially as we emerge from the pandemic. Ebony Tye is the owner of God’s Kidz Child Care Center in south Columbus. Tye said incentives for centers like hers are much needed.
“When you are looking at your cost for bleach just to clean your center rising from seven dollars a week to $24 a week. The things you have to cut back in order to continue to maintain makes a big difference,” Tye said.
Nearly one in six of the child care centers in Central Ohio that closed during the COVID-19 pandemic has not reopened, and according to commissioners, half of those remaining report that they are not able to cover their expenses.
Eric Karolak, CEO of Action for Children, said it is important to build back the state's workforce.
“It’s about parents earning and children learning. When you combine those with adequate housing and other supports our community is poised to thrive," Karolak said.
With the Intel project coming to Central Ohio and other businesses locating here and looking for workers, child care will be in even bigger demand. Mayor Andrew Ginther said families need assistance.
“We must do all we can to alleviate the pressures squeezing the system. Holding households back. By helping child care professionals and women return to the workforce,” Ginther said.
Charisse Austin, a mother, and educator knows the importance of early learning. But she also understands the financial burdens of child care on families.
“Gas is increasing. Groceries increasing. There are so many things we are needing to now take a step back and evaluate what we are doing with our finances,” Austin said.
Franklin County RISE includes $11.4 million in scholarships for families facing the benefits cliff, and 750 families are expected to get scholarships in the first year, 500 students in the second year are expected to be eligible for up to $10,000 per year in scholarships.
About $500,000 of the RISE funding will be dedicated to emergency rental assistance for child care workers. The average wage for credentialed lead teachers averages $12.22 per hour—about 41% of the median income for Franklin County. RISE teacher supports will offer an average of $3,000 in rental assistance payments per household.
For more information on how to apply for the assistance, click here.