Tuesday, July 16, 2002

Voinovich seeks support for early education bill

Former governor meets with local child-care experts

By Tom O'Neill toneill@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        ANDERSON TWP. - Sen.George Voinovich met with Cincinnati-area child-development experts Monday, vowing to increase federal funding for care in the first two years of life.

        The former Ohio governor's Early Childhood and Education Act, co-sponsored by Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy, authorizes $1 billion in each fiscal year from 2003 through 2007.

        The money would come from existing programs, but an estimated 40 percent increase is being debated.

        A group of 13 local leaders included those from Hamilton County Head Start, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, and host Beech Acres.

        They thanked the senator for supporting early-childhood funding, but expressed concern that money allocated to their programs may be shifted elsewhere.

        They've seen that happen.

        This is a heightened worry in these times of government budget shortfalls, both federally and in Ohio and Kentucky.

        “I can't guarantee that, but I can assure you the intention is to use the money for this purpose only,” the senator said in response to a question by Judith Van Ginkel, president of Every Child Succeeds.

        The senator pointed out his success as Ohio governor in funding Head Start, which reached 90 percent of eligible children in Ohio when the national average was 40 percent. From 1990 to 1998 under Mr. Voinovich, Ohio spending on Head Start services increased to $181.2 million, from $18.4 million.

        “There's not enough money and plenty of children,” said Verline Dotson of the Evanston-based Community Action Agency, after the meeting. Her agency contracts with Hamilton County to operate a Head Start program that serves 4,700 children younger than 5 at an annual budget of between $27-30 million, she said.

        The senator also met with several clients served by the Every Child Succeeds program. Most were young, single mothers with low incomes. They get twice-monthly home visits from caseworkers who screen the babies' development and provide parenting tips.

        “It's great just to be able to ask questions,” said Jessica Schulz, 19, of Union Township, Clermont County, while her 15-month-old daughter, Kaelyn, sat on her lap. “It reassures me that I'm doing OK.”

        Tarah Crusoe, 19, of Cumminsville, holding her eight-month-old daughter, Tarasia, agreed. “I don't think I would have known to do all this,” she said. Her caseworker, Jennifer Hoefle, noted that early screening of Tarasia's responsiveness suggested a possible hearing disability, but the baby is fine. Ms. Crusoe has been getting home visits since Tarasia was two months old.

        Sen. Voinovich's bill is currently in the Senate, with committee revisions expected this week. A final version will then go to the full Senate for vote.


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