Franklin County offering child care scholarships, provider incentives, housing help for educators
Commissioners are calling it Franklin County RISE, a $23 million partnership with Action for Children to support families struggling to pay child care and the providers and staff that care for kids. The three-part plan involves early learning scholarships, incentive payments for child care programs, and financial support for child care workers. Prior to the pandemic, only 40 percent of the county's children were ready for kindergarten. Franklin County Commissioner Erica Crawley says that drops to 26 percent for children of color and 28 percent for those living in poverty. Crawley says the pandemic halted much of the progress in closing those achievement gaps and she believes those disparities will increase without action.
"The business of caring for our earliest learners has not been spared either," Crawley continued. "At the onset of the pandemic, child care programs in Franklin County and around the state were forced to close. Today, one in six providers remain closed. Half of those that are open report not being able to cover expenses, and 17 percent of providers are not sure they can remain open for another three months. The pandemic has made it clear how essential early care and education is for our economy to function. The cost of doing nothing would have wide-ranging and lasting ramifications, from providers closing centers and laying off staff to working parents leaving their jobs to care for their children themselves."
The county expects 500 students to be eligible for up to $10,000 per year in scholarships. About 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.
Action for Children, a child care resource and referral agency for central Ohio families and providers, continues administering child care scholarships and signing bonuses funded by the city of Columbus last fall. Applications for the RISE scholarships are available now. Action for Children CEO Eric Karolak explains the process.
"It's important to note that those applications will go through providers," Karolak said. "Providers hold the relationships with families and also with their employees. So, providers will be working with families that either come to them or are already enrolled. They'll decide what those families need relative to the tution that they're charging and to the family's income needs. Those applications will then start streaming in. We'll approve them as they come in. There's an elaborate process to make sure that all of the requirements are met, and then those funds will be released monthly. We expect the first dollars will flow no later than May."
In addition, the county will dedicate $500,000 to emergency rental assistance for child care workers. Incentive applications are expected to be available in April. Although the funding comes from the American Rescue Plan, Crawley says the county is committed to investing in this effort when the federal funds run out.
"We can set aside general fund dollars or work with organizations for public-private partnerships," Crawley said. "We can continue advocating for state and federal changes. The state currently has $499 million that is earmarked for child care. That's supposed to be a pass-through, and they are not passing it through. It will make a difference for our child care providers and our children. So, we will continue to advocate for funding from the state and federal level. We all have a shared responsibility to make sure Franklin County children rise, they rise up healthy, and they are ready to learn."
More details about the Franklin County RISE program, its requirements, and how to apply are available at RISE.FranklinCountyOhio.gov.