GROVE CITY, Ohio (WCMH) — Sitting at the feet of State Sen. Stephanie Kunze and Grove City Police Chief Rick Butsko, nearly a dozen children listened to the adults read to them stories of friendship and the importance of working as a team.
The scene unfolded inside a classroom at the Bostic HeadStart Center in Grove City Monday morning.
Storytime followed the presentation of the “Fight Crime: Invest in Kids” Ohio Champion for Children Award given to Kunze by Butsko on behalf of the Ohio Council for a Strong America.
She earned the award for her leadership and support of investments in early care and education programs, according to the group.
Kunze’s work in this area was in conjunction with several lawmakers and the DeWine Administration pushing for more services and money spent on children in the biennial State Operating Budget.
“We spend a lot of time at the Statehouse talking about downstream issues and really, when we can make investments upstream, in early childhood, I think we’ll see a return on investment,” said Kunze.
Butsko said without investment like this, some children will not receive the support they need to be successful in school, and be set upon a road to a possible life of crime.
“It’s important that of all the funding initiatives that we take care of the most vulnerable people and the children, especially those in the lowest socioeconomic classes fall into that category,” said Butsko. “There is definitely a nexus between lowest socioeconomic class and crime.”
According to Michael Harlow, the executive director for the Ohio Council for a Strong America, reading to children is incredibly important.
“Reading to kids for 15 minutes a day makes a big difference in their development. It’s probably the one most significant task a person can take on in order to help their kid succeed,” said Harlow.
While pleased with the effort being shown by lawmakers and state leaders, more could be done according to Harlow, such as increasing eligibility for HeadStart and Early Childhood Education programs.
“In between that 130 percent and 150 percent of federal poverty level, there’s a lot of working families, two-income earners that are doing everything they can just to keep a roof over their head,” said Harlow.
Those families cannot afford private programs that can cost $200-$300 per month in some cases.
Increasing access for more children to attend pre-K educational facilities would better prepare them for when they start kindergarten, according to educators working in the field.
However, if eligibility is increased, the next would be to address a lack of space to house those classes.
Many places that offer these courses at affordable levels, or for families that qualify to attend based on need, have long waiting lists.
That is not due to a lack of staff, according to Stephanie Kellenberger, the center manager at the Bostic HeadStart Center. She said that for the past 10 years, people have been graduating with degrees that qualify them to teach.
Instead, space is the real problem with many elementary schools not having enough room to house the classes, and school districts unable or unwilling to purchase additional buildings to accommodate them.