Early learning initiative receives additional funding

The Franklin County Commissioners voted to approve an additional $11.5 million to support the second year of the Franklin County RISE early learning initiative which helps to make high-quality childcare more affordable for working Franklin County families. The agreement between Franklin County Department of Job and Family Services and Future Ready Five brings the commissioners’ total commitment to this multi-year initiative north of $23 million.

“Franklin County is a thriving community, but that growth can’t continue unless parents have quality early-learning options for their children and the children themselves are adequately prepared for school,” said board president John O’Grady. “Our region is expected to add more than 700,000 people in the next few decades, which won’t be possible or sustainable unless we find ways to support high-quality early-learning centers and help make child care more affordable for families.”

Originally launched in the spring of 2022, Franklin County RISE takes a whole-system approach offering an array of supports for working families, child care providers and early learning professionals. The initiative, which is made possible with the support of the American Rescue Plan, puts equity at the forefront and is designed to help address disparities in early learning outcomes for low-income and underrepresented families – along with the providers and educators who serve them.

“High quality childcare makes a tremendous difference in the lives of young people and their parents. Data shows that it can have positive effects for many years as the kids progress through school and into adulthood,” said commissioner Kevin Boyce. “But there is also a very strong workforce and economic argument to be made for good, affordable child care in that it allows parents to work and our entire community relies on employers being able to find and retain reliable staff members.”

The three main pillars of Franklin County RISE – affordability scholarships for families, incentive awards for child care providers, and financial aid for early learning educators – have been refined based on data and stakeholder feedback to better meet evolving community needs in year two. The affordability scholarships are available for working 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 afford the full cost of child care out-of-pocket. Even with recent moves to modestly expand eligibility for child care subsidies at the state level, Ohio remains among the bottom-five states when it comes to access to child care subsidies and supports for working families. Franklin County’s renewed commitment will support a minimum of 600 affordability scholarships, covering of up to $9,000 over a 12-month span.

“I understand the challenges and difficulties faced by families due to outdated public policies, which makes it even harder to manage work and child care responsibilities. The benefits cliff can discourage parents from pursuing career growth as they fear losing access to child care. To address this issue, the RISE program has been introduced, which aims to bridge the gap and empower working families to access the child care they need while also being ambitious at work,” said commissioner Erica Crawley.

The number of different categories of incentives offered through Franklin County RISE has been streamlined and the amounts increased for year two to better meet the needs of both home-based child care providers and larger centers. They include awards of up to $21,000 for licensed child care providers who improve their Step Up To Quality star rating, up to $5,000 for providers who enter into a new PFCC agreement to serve children from low-income families, and up to $10,000 for providers who offer care during non-traditional hours (e.g., overnight and weekends) to support parents and caregivers working in retail or service industry along with first responders.

The final pillar of Franklin County RISE includes a $500,000 contribution to the county’s dedicated rental assistance fund for early-learning educators. These vital teachers are predominantly women and people of color and are chronically underpaid, with an average wage for credentialed lead teachers averaging about $17 per hour, or about half of the median household income for Franklin County

The scholarships, incentives, and emergency rental assistance pillars will be administered by Action for Children under contract with Future Ready Five, including, training and courses for parents to learn about kindergarten readiness and childhood development milestones as well as technical assistance for providers to help them meet high-quality early learning standards.

“Future Ready Five is excited to administer Franklin County RISE for 2024 and bring support to working families and child care providers,” said FR5 CEO Mario Basora. “As the leading collective impact organization taking a holistic approach to kindergarten readiness in Franklin County, FR5 works to elevate the early childhood profession and ensure all Franklin County children are ready to thrive in kindergarten and beyond. With support from our valued partner, Action for Children, we plan to increase the success and reach of Franklin County RISE in the coming year.”

The affordability scholarship portal for Franklin County RISE re-launched on Dec. 13.

Families who have already applied and received notice that they are on the waitlist do not need to resubmit a new application. The incentive awards program and rental assistance fund is expected to re-launch shortly after the new year.

For more information about Franklin County RISE program, including detailed eligibility requirements, and links to apply for the scholarships or incentives, visit RISE.FranklinCountyOhio.gov.

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