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Op-Ed: “Counties For Kids” Campaign Highlights Franklin County’s Investments, Commitment To Equity In Early Learning

By Joy Bivens, Deputy County Administrator for Health and Human Services, Franklin County

Franklin County Department of Job and Family Services is joining the National Association of Counties Research Foundation’s #CountiesForKids, a public awareness campaign for county leaders who are committed to making investments in young children.

As we learn more about early brain development it has become clear that early childhood learning is just as important as K-12 education. Since 2017, the Franklin County Commissioners have committed more than $4.5 million to help increase community awareness about the importance of high-quality early learning and ensure Publicly Funded Child Care providers earned their stars under Ohio’s Step Up to Quality rating improvement system.

When we first conducted an analysis of the Franklin County PFCC landscape in 2017, we found that only about a quarter of PFCC providers were star rated. That meant as many as 23,000 children – the vast majority children of color living in some of our lowest-asset neighborhoods – and 10,000 working parents were at risk of losing access to child care when the mandate went into effect.

Since 2018, Franklin County JFS has provided free training and one-on-one assistance to more than 1,050 early learning professionals from nearly 500 child care programs. We’ve also collaborated with Future Ready Columbus, our local resource and referral agency Action for Children and the city of Columbus to provide direct funding for programs to build capacity or offset new costs associated with the pandemic.

When the SUTQ deadline arrived Sept 1, 2020, we had just three programs in the entire county that hadn’t been star rated or qualify for any exemptions. Fewer than a dozen families that were impacted.

While this is a monumental accomplishment, we must now shift our focus toward 2025, when centers must be “highly-rated” under this unfunded state mandate. The pandemic has further underscored that poor children and children of color in our community simply do not get the same educational opportunities as other children. We need to ensure every kid gets a fair shot - and we must start during the early learning years.

We will continue to make equity the centerpiece for our strategy. Just yesterday, our Commissioners approved nearly $80,000 to continue partnering with the National Center for Urban Solutions on our “Calling All Dads” initiative, which recruits fathers to serve as early learning ambassadors.
 
Franklin County is committed to the mission of SUTQ and the importance of early childhood development. By joining NACo’s #CountiesForKids Campaign, we are asking our leaders to continue making significant investments in services and supports for children and their families.

To learn more about SUTQ and early learning resources from Franklin County, visit www.StepUp2StarRating.com. To learn more about NACo’s Counties for Kids campaign, visit www.countiesforkids.org.

The Franklin County Department of Job and Family Services provides timely public assistance benefits and builds community partnership through inclusion, responsiveness and innovation. Learn more at https://jfs.franklincountyohio.gov and follow JFS on FacebookTwitter and YouTube.  

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