State officials visit Cleveland to explore funding for improving early child care facilities
On Thursday, the head of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) visited a recently renovated child care center in Cleveland's Glenville neighborhood to witness firsthand the impact of new upgrades to the building, paid for, in part, by the local nonprofit PRE4CLE’s Early Learning Spaces program.
ODJFS Director Matt Damschroder toured the newly refinished halls, improved bathrooms and bright open classrooms at the Murtis Taylor child care center at the Kathryn R. Tyler Center. The improvements were made with a $100,000 grant from PRE4CLE’s Early Learning Spaces program, which has about $3.3 million in federal and private donations to fund facility upgrades throughout the city.
In addition to the grants to pay for facility upgrades, PRE4CLE also pays for an assessment to be done of each grantee’s building and provides additional support as improvement projects get underway.
Damschroder visited the center as the state considers whether to implement similar a statewide program that would provide funding to child care centers to improve their facilities.
The state currently does not have a specific program that helps early childhood education centers — which often operate on razor-thin margins — fund facilities improvements, but Katie Kelly, PRE4CLE’s executive director, who was also on the tour, said additional support is needed.
“A lot of our spaces are in strip malls or… church basements where they're not necessarily set up to be learning spaces,” she said.
She shared photos of many early childhood centers throughout Cleveland with failing heating and cooling systems and aging roofs that need to be replaced. In some centers, multiple classes are being taught in the same room with no walls in between them, leading to chaotic and noisy learning environments, she said. Other sites are dealing with asbestos or lead that needs to be abated.
Despite the challenges posed by their physical environment, many centers are providing highly-rated, quality instruction, Kelly said.
Increasing access to high-quality early childhood education is a priority for Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, Damschroder said.
“We’re starting to have those conversations about what all goes into quality,” he said. “It’s not just programmatic, as we heard here. Sometimes it’s facilities, too.”
Robin Toewe, director of real estate solutions for the Michigan branch of IFF (formerly the Illinois Facilities Fund), a nonprofit community development financial institution and lender in the Midwest, also toured the center Thursday.
IFF has been working in Michigan to help preschools get funding for facility improvements in a manner similar to PRE4CLE, she said. Last year, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced a $100 million fund — using federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) dollars — to support child care centers, including $50 million for facilities improvement, she said.
The improvements are good for children, according to advocates, who point to studies that show a link between improved quality of care and the quality of the facility itself.
Toewe and Kelly noted that often, facility operators leverage funding from multiple government and nonprofit sources to make grants like PRE4CLE’s go farther. That was the case at Murtis Taylor, which bundled PRE4CLE dollars with funds from other sources, including Cuyahoga County, officials said.
The result was a new roof and, soon, a new elevator. Both upgrades might have been too costly to be paid for out of PRE4CLE’s Early Learning Spaces grant alone.
As well, Toewe noted her lending agency — which is opening a branch in Cleveland — has been buying property for child care providers to operate from, which the providers then rent to own while her agency updates the building.
“We have a lot of good, high-quality providers that simply don’t have the capacity to own right now,” she said.
Kelly, of PRE4CLE, said the amount of money needed to help Cleveland's child care facilities is greater than her organization can fund currently.
“We think, at scale, this is probably a $25 million project in Cleveland if we were to get to the number of sites, both centers and homes that we think could benefit from this program, but that also continues to grow as more sites become high-quality,” she said.
Bill Teets, a spokesperson for the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, said the state has doled out a great deal of money during the pandemic to keep child care providers afloat. Providers could have used those funds to help pay for facilities.
"To date, ODJFS has provide approximately $750 million to assist child care providers to assist with maintaining operations over the pandemic, expanding access to programming and assisting staff including for recruitment and retention," he said. "In addition, we’ve spent approximately $50 million over the last year to waive co-pays for families receiving publicly funded child care."