Mike DeWine made early childhood development and education a leading priority of his campaign for governor. Now comes the job of fulfilling the commitment, or getting state lawmakers to back the necessary investment, starting with a new two-year state budget plan. A poll of 1,000 Ohioans, conducted by the Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron and released last week, sheds helpful light on the terrain the governor must navigate.
The poll found that Ohioans are “moderately aware” of early childhood education issues. By comparison, they show more awareness of the opioid epidemic, and less about the Medicaid expansion. More than one-half of those surveyed are unaware that most children are not ready for kindergarten when first heading to school.
Both responses indicate the hard work ahead of the governor in mobilizing legislative and public support. That is plain, too, in the four clusters of Ohioans identified by the poll. The largest group, “skeptical daycare followers,” accounting for 48 percent, are the least aware and least knowledgeable about early education issues. No more than one-half of this group sees “high importance” in such proposals as high-quality, all-day daycare and preschool, year-round school programs for at-risk children and home visits to assist families in preparing their children for school.
They report a “low willingness” to raise taxes to invest in early education.
That said, the poll did find encouraging responses upon which the governor can build. For instance, two-thirds of those surveyed recognize that “children from well-off and less well-off families are not equally prepared to start kindergarten.” A similar share understands that children who enter kindergarten unprepared do not catch up quickly. In addition, 86 percent of respondents know that parents lacking the means for steady childcare have “a hard time getting and keeping a job.”
If those “skeptical daycare followers” have doubts about the value of early education policy initiatives, large majorities of Ohioans view all-day daycare, all-day preschool and all-year school programs as highly important. Just 38 percent rated home visits as a proposal of “high importance.”
That response concerning home visits is intriguing because the proposal is a key part of what the governor seeks to accomplish. He wants to do so in light of the data showing such visits have proved effective in helping parents prepare their children for kindergarten. The proposal is driven by research detailing how the first five years of a child’s life are crucial for brain development and predictive how a child will perform in school.
Children who arrive ready for kindergarten more likely meet the mark for third grade reading achievement, then eighth grade math and eventually high school graduation. They are more likely to gain postsecondary schooling. They tend to have higher earnings and better health.
So a strong case is there for intervening early, especially with the persistent achievement gap, disadvantaged students scoring 30 percentage points below their non-disadvantaged peers for readiness and on proficiency exams. The divide is particularly pronounced for black students. Thus, it follows, as Groundwork Ohio, a leading advocacy group for early education, stresses, that with just 40 percent of kindergartners arriving ready to learn, 43 percent of the state workforce has a postsecondary degree or credential.
That isn’t good enough in today’s economy, fueled by knowledge, innovation and digitalization. It also is true that Ohio won’t transform suddenly parts of its workforce. This is a generational task in many ways. The job for the governor is to build a consensus at the Statehouse for getting started and sustaining support for early education. The Bliss Institute poll offers hopeful indications that Ohioans are open to the message.