The Franklin County commissioners this morning announced a historic new investment in families and local child care providers called Franklin County RISE. The partnership with Action For Children will invest nearly $23 million over two years to support Franklin County families who are struggling to pay for child care as well as child care providers and staff. 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 funding 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.
“As we reimagine what our child care system is going to look like coming out of the pandemic, some have tried to frame it as a choice between increasing affordability or improving quality,” Franklin County Commissioner Erica C. Crawley said. “As a single mom of twins, I can tell you parents don’t see it as an either/or proposition—and neither does Franklin County. Early care and education is an educational, workforce, and economic issue and must be top priority requiring our investment now. The county’s investment will yield invaluable dividends now and for our community years later.”
Nearly one in six of the child care centers in Central Ohio that closed during the COVID-19 pandemic has not reopened, and half of those remaining report that they are not able to cover their expenses. Families rely on child care to help prepare children for school and so that the parents can work, but high-quality care can cost more than college in Franklin County, and parents who make as little as $25,000 per year don’t qualify for assistance. Franklin County RISE will help alleviate these struggles in three ways: early learning scholarships, incentive payments for child care programs, and financial supports for child care workers.
“Providing high-quality child care and running a business are both challenges even in the best of times,” said Commissioner John O’Grady. “So many of our providers have had to shut their doors over the past two years and others are struggling to survive even as the economy begins to recover. Our new Franklin County RISE funding for both child care centers and their staff will help to keep them afloat, incentivize quality, and ensure that great teachers don’t have to abandon their passion for jobs in other fields.”
Franklin County RISE includes $11.4 million in scholarships for families facing the benefits cliff, and five hundred students are expected to be eligible for up to $10,000 per year in scholarships. A recent report found that investments in quality child care for disadvantaged children yields a lifetime return of greater than 10:1, an economic impact of more than $110 million for the scholarships.
The support to providers totals more than $11.3 million in four funding areas: as many as 750 providers are expected to receive up to $3,000 per year for taking on low-income families, up to $10,000 for improving their state ratings, and up to $5,000 per year for expanding to non-traditional hours. In addition, $500,000 of the RISE funding is dedicated to emergency rental assistance for child care workers. These vital teachers are predominantly women and people of color and chronically underpaid, with an average wage for credentialed lead teachers averaging just $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.
“What a cruel irony for parents to be told that even though their job doesn’t pay enough to afford child care, it makes them ineligible for child care assistance,” said Commissioner Kevin L. Boyce. “The benefits cliff is the result of federal policy that simply hasn’t kept up with the cost of child care. If we realistically want people in the workforce and moving up the economic ladder, we have to find ways to make child care affordable.”
Action for Children is a premier child care resource and referral agency for both families and providers in Central Ohio, offering parent education and seminars, training and technical assistance for teachers and providers, as well as advocacy and workforce development. Action for Children is already administering some child care scholarships and signing bonuses funded by the City of Columbus which will be rolled into the Franklin County RISE initiatives. Action for Children will administer Franklin County RISE, serving as the point of contact for families and early learning centers, determining program eligibility, and administering the scholarships and grants.
“This program is designed to empower families and provide resources they need to take advantage of the many benefits child care offers,” said Action for Children CEO Eric Karolak. “Quality child care delivers a lifetime of return for young minds, so it’s exciting to make an impact in our community with out local government partners.”
To learn more about the Franklin County RISE program, including detailed eligibility requirements, and to apply for the scholarships or incentives, visit RISE.FranklinCountyOhio.gov.
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