Blog | Event | January 19, 2021

Panelists Discuss How Early Childhood Programs’ Scarcity Undermines Ohio's Rural Communities

Council for a Strong America and an early childhood advocate joined legislators to release a film and report discussing the lack of high-quality early education and care in rural Ohio

Yesterday, Council for a Strong America Ohio members, an early childhood advocate, and legislators joined a panel discussion to release a new report, entitled “Early Childhood Programs’ Scarcity Undermines Ohio’s Rural Communities.” The report highlights the disproportionate challenges that rural children face in accessing high-quality early programs and other supports. The screening of a short film that further describes this pressing problem accompanied the virtual roundtable.

After an introduction by Cyndy Rees, Director of Council for a Strong America Ohio, Sandra Bishop, Chief Research Officer at Council for a Strong America, provided important background on the report. John Rataiczak, President of the Barnesville (Belmont County) Chamber, spoke next, explaining the far-reaching implications of this issue. “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,” he said.

Delaware County Sheriff Russell Martin spoke of the connection between a lack of early childhood support and crime. “Families in rural Ohio need access to critical early childhood care programs such as Help Me Grow home visiting, child care, and preschool, as these programs are proven to ensure their children will have a strong foundation to build upon throughout their lives. All too often, individuals fall behind early in school leaving them with an education deficit that can result in a spiral of bad behavior,” Sheriff Martin said. “In fact, six out of every ten incarcerated persons in America’s state prisons did not graduate high school. The consequences of what happens when a child is very young can include outcomes that put that individual on a bad path in life.”

Sheriff Martin also talked about what lawmakers can do to improve rural families’ access to high-quality early childhood programs. “Lawmakers could take several actions to help, including supporting existing child care providers in managing the business aspects of their work, as well as by requiring states to provide technical assistance in meeting regulations.”

To offer a military perspective on this country-wide issue, Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Paul Sullivan, U.S. Air Force, spoke about how the lack of high-quality early education and care in rural America affects national security. Today, 71 percent of young adults ages 17 to 24 are ineligible for military service, mostly because they are too poorly educated, too overweight, or have a disqualifying record of crime or drug abuse. “That’s why high-quality early education and care programs are so important to Ohio and across the nation,” General Sullivan explained. “A strong nation begins with quality early childhood programs. Child care, preschool, and home visiting help children meet both physical and educational stages of development preparing them for lives of service either in the military or in their community.”

George Goddard, Director, Early Childhood Care & Education Corporation for Ohio Appalachian Development (COAD), talked about early childhood education as another form of Ohio’s vital infrastructure, critical for rural families and communities. “Ohio’s Appalachian counties are disproportionately underserved as compared to the rest of the state. Lawmakers must begin to view early childhood care and education as a critical part of our infrastructure. Without access to quality programs working families cannot go to work and children cannot succeed,” he said.

Children in rural America are struggling—their families and communities are struggling, too. They are in dire need of greater access to high-quality and affordable early education programs. The panelists and the new report made it clear that lawmakers need to invest in these programs to better the lives of children and families in these areas to make the nation stronger as a whole.

Watch the event below and read the full report here.

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