Report | January 19, 2021

Early Childhood Programs’ Scarcity Undermines Ohio's Rural Communities

Quality early care and education can bolster public safety, the economy, and national security

High rates of child poverty and persistent child poverty are prevalent in rural Ohio. Ten of the 16 counties with child poverty rates above 25 percent, and both of the counties with rates over 30 percent, are rural. In addition, all six Ohio counties with persistent child poverty are rural. Poverty in Ohio is concentrated in the Appalachian counties and in counties in the Western and Northwestern parts of the state. More than 30 percent of Ohio’s Appalachian children ages birth to five live in poverty.

Early childhood care and education programs are vital to ensuring rural communities thrive and prosper by giving every child the opportunity to meet their developmental milestones.

Keith Everhart, Sheriff, Hardin County and President, Buckeye State Sheriff’s Association

At the same time, children in Ohio’s rural communities often lack resources and supports, including quality early childhood care and education, which research shows can strengthen the current and future workforce, contribute to a strong economy and public safety, and enhance national security in the long run. While 39 percent of Ohioans live in a child care “desert,” where there are more than three children under age 5 for each licensed child care slot, in rural communities the figure is 60 percent.

Quality child care and preschool programs are a critical workforce tool. These programs support working parents as well as educate our children. Part of building the right business environment in our communities includes having a quality current and future workforce that will attract potential employers and that begins with early childhood care and education.

John Rataiczak, President, Barnesville Chamber of Commerce

To meet the needs of children and families living in Ohio’s rural communities, policymakers must address the need to increase the supply of early care and education throughout the state, prioritizing rural areas. Given the prevalence of child care deserts in Ohio’s rural communities, increasing the number of child care options is imperative. Similarly, increasing the supply of preschool programs will help improve Ohio rural children’s school readiness and long-term academic outcomes. Legislators should consider innovative delivery models, including home-based or mobile programs. Ohio policymakers must support tailored investments for children in rural communities to help ensure the future strength of our state.

A strong nation begins with quality early childhood programs. Child care, preschool, and home visiting programs help children meet both physical and educational stages of development, preparing them for lives of service either in the military or in their community.

Paul Sullivan, Major General (Ret.) United States Air Force


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