How Preschool Works in Ohio

Takeaway: Ohio regulates and oversees most center-based programs as well as many home-based programs. The state and has made important strides in increasing access to publicly-funded early childhood programs for economically disadvantaged children, and it has adopted comprehensive learning standards that are designed to align with its K–12 educational goals. Children who enroll in preschool in the state do better on kindergarten readiness measures than peers who do not. Areas for improvement include reducing group sizes, improving caregiver-to-children ratios, raising minimum educational attainment levels for early childhood teachers, and providing sufficient state funding for full-day programming.

Overview

Ohio began providing public preschool programs in the 1990s, and has, in recent years, significantly increased state funding, expanded the number of eligible providers, and worked to establish high-quality, comprehensive learning standards for children from birth through kindergarten entry. The Ohio Department of Education (ODE) and the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services (ODJFS) oversee state early childhood care in home-, center-, community-, and school-based programs. In addition, the Ohio Head Start Association has offerings across the state. Through public funding of early childhood care and education, the state seeks to increase access to high-quality programs, especially for economically disadvantaged families.

Ohio has used federal Race to the Top grants to broaden early childhood standards into areas such as social-emotional and physical-motor development, as well as to create assessments to measure kindergarten readiness. Its goals are to integrate early learning with Ohio’s K–12 educational standards and to improve outcomes for students. It has also created a five-star rating system, Step Up To Quality (SUTQ), for certain types of family-based care and all center-based programs.

Ohio’s recent state funding increases are aimed at broadening access for 3- and 4-year-olds who are not already enrolled in or eligible for publicly-funded preschool services. Unfortunately, the state only requires licensed preschool and day care providers to offer programs for 12.5 hours per week, although these schedules may be expanded if there are other funding sources in local districts. Providers can, therefore, offer full-time, part-time, morning, afternoon, or early- and extended-day care programs.

At present, only programs that have received star ratings of three or above in the SUTQ system, or those ODE-governed programs that are taking specific steps towards achieving such ratings, are able to receive state funding. Participating programs must report student, teacher, and program data to the Ohio Department of Education in an effort to track outcomes and improve programs.

The Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services has an online search tool for families who are seeking care in licensed child care centers or homes. It allows a parent to filter by location, type of program, age(s) of child(ren), rating, hours of operation, and program accreditation. Provider profiles contain basic contact, operations, and licensure information, as well as links to recent inspection reports.

The Ohio Head Start Association provides an online directory that is searchable by county, with results that contain contact information for local Head Start programs.

The Ohio Department of Education’s preschool search is limited to county or city and age level. Results are delivered in a list arranged alphabetically by county, and families can find contact information and hours of operation by clicking on a given provider’s name.

One confounding factor for families seeking to understand the landscape of early childhood care and education in Ohio is the inclusion of documents, policies, and programs that are several years out of date and that may fail to address, in particular, the strides the state has made in recent years to improve its standards and access to programming.

Center-Based Care

Ohio regulates most types of center-based care, including community-based preschools and child care centers licensed by ODJFS, early child care programs and preschools operated by district or private charter schools licensed by ODE, and Head Start programs. Programs are inspected when providers initially apply for a license, and then again once or twice a year thereafter — depending on the type of program, its hours of operation, licensure status, and participation in Ohio’s rating system. Visits may be scheduled or unannounced. Facilities must also undergo fire inspections annually.

Child day care centers are defined by ODJFS as programs in which seven to 12 children are cared for outside of the provider’s home, or 13 or more children are cared for in any setting. Centers are required to ensure that staff, teachers, and directors meet professional qualifications that include early childhood education, certification, or training related to their roles in caring for children.

For example, preschool directors can hold a pre–K license, certificate, or endorsement, or a principal’s license for pre–K through 6th grade. Preschool teachers must hold an associate’s degree or higher in early childhood education or another state-approved, related field. In addition, staff are subject to background checks, must take part in ten hours of professional development each year, and be trained in CPR and first aid.

Child care centers must comply with the following caregiver-to-child ratios and group sizes: for infants from birth to 12 months, 1:5 or 1:6, with no more than 12 infants per group; 12–18 months, 1:6, not to exceed 12 children; 18–30 months, 1:7, with no more than 14 in a group; 30–35 months, 1:8, with up to 14 children; 3-year-olds, 1:12, not to exceed 24 preschoolers in a class; 4–5 years, 1:14, with no more than 28 children per class. For mixed-age groupings, the ratio appropriate for the youngest children applies unless there is only one child over the age of 30 months in a group of older kids. Additionally, Montessori programs are permitted to include 3- to 5-year-olds in kindergarten classes.

Programs serving children with developmental disabilities have stricter ratios. For example, the caregiver-to-child ratio for children with an Individualized Education Program is 1:6 with a maximum group size of 16.

The state’s pre-K programs serve 3- and 4-year-olds, and may be offered in publicly-funded child care centers, district public schools, or approved charter schools. Additional funding for these programs has greatly increased the number of young children who participate. As mentioned, Ohio has comprehensive early learning standards that aim to prepare young children effectively for kindergarten. In fact, student outcome data shows that children who take part in the state’s public preschool programs perform better on the Kindergarten Readiness Assessment than demographically similar peers who were not enrolled in preschool.

Ohio has made significant strides in improving the quality of and increasing access to early childhood programs in recent years, but it still has room to grow, according to benchmarks established by the National Institute for Early Education Research. For example, the state’s teacher-to-student ratios of 1:12 for 3-year-olds and 1:14 for 4-year-olds exceed the target of 1:10 for these age groups, as do its maximum group sizes of 24 and 28, respectively. Accordingly, NIEER awarded Ohio four out of ten benchmarks.

Home-Based Care

Ohio has two categories of home-based care. Type A homes are licensed by ODJFS and serve four to 12 children if there are four below the age of 2 years, or seven to 12 children otherwise. Care is given in a provider’s residence, and any of the caregiver’s own children who are younger than 6 years old must be included in the overall total.

Type A homes are inspected fully via unannounced visits three times during their first year of provisional operation, and annually thereafter. They must also pass a fire inspection. Staff must clear background checks, and these homes are required to employ enough individuals to meet mandated caregiver-to-children ratios that vary according to the number and ages of the children enrolled. For example, if there is an infant younger than 12 months, there may be four children in the group and one caregiver. If there are no infants, one caregiver may look after six children. To learn more about these limits, open this link. Corporal punishment is prohibited.

Primary caregivers must be high school graduates or hold a GED, meet certain education requirements in child development or have the equivalent in work experience, and complete an ODJFS training course. They must also complete training in CPR, first aid, management of communicable diseases, and child abuse prevention, as well as take part in ongoing professional development. Comparable rules apply to other staff members.

ODJFS may also license Type B homes, but only in cases when a provider enrolls (or plans to enroll) children who would be served through the state’s publicly-funded child care programs. Participating in this program is voluntary, and without such participation, Type B homes are not regulated by ODJFS or other agencies.

Unlicensed Care

Unlicensed care programs are not mandated to meet particular health, safety, staffing, or early learning requirements. They are unregulated by local, state, or federal agencies. Examples of such programs may include care for a child in the home, infrequent care or programs that operate for no more than two weeks per year, or extracurricular activities.

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