A coalition of groups from the children services, economic stability and education equity fields have come together to push budget priorities that focus on the youngest Ohioans.

The Ohio Children’s Budget Coalition released multiple policy briefs outlining the major needs they see within the state to support children and sent a letter to the governor calling on him to commit to further investment.

In a letter to Gov. Mike DeWine, Tracy Najera, executive director of the Children’s Defense Fund of Ohio wrote on behalf of the coalition, which makes up more than 18 state organizations.

The main categories Najera and the coalition said state budget talks should start with are child health, quality childcare and K-12 education, children services, youth justice, economic stability and critical broadband infrastructure.

With the COVID-19 forcing students to utilize remote learning and parents to help with virtual learning, the need for broadband has become more and more of an issue throughout the state. The increased need for broadband has shown “two Ohios,” including one that has the resources and access needed to adapt to a more virtual environment.

“However, for far too many Ohioans, these opportunities are simply out of reach due to where a person lives, their lack of resources, or both obstacles,” Najera wrote.

Access to the internet is not the only shortcoming the pandemic has spotlighted, according to the coalition. Economic instability and food insecurity are both underlying issues that impact the success of children, and the need is emphasized in the applications for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.

The coalition said SNAP benefit applications surged during the first two months, and despite help coming in the form of the new COVID-19 relief package, food banks are still compensating for losses that happened early on.

Those that find themselves in the foster care and child protective services system have a further struggle that the coalition says is a critical issue for the state to address.

“Ohio must begin with the premise that children should be raised in families, not institutions,” the coalition told the governor. “If children must leave their families for a time, they should be placed with kin if possible and as close to home as possible.”

When the need arises, the state must be ready with well-funded child protection services and foster care recruitment.

Education is set to be a big-ticket issue in the new General Assembly, after an overhaul of the funding formula died in the last legislature, and only a few pieces of the funding bill made it into the capital budget passed late last year.

Included in the capital budget was $2.1 billion to support education studies to determine the true cost of education in Ohio, and a small change to EdChoice changing the application period for vouchers from February to March.

In a brief written on behalf of the coalition by Melissa Cropper and Darold Johnson, of the Ohio Federation of Teachers, an organization that has been outspoken in its criticism of EdChoice vouchers. The policy brief said the next school funding formula should “provide all children with the necessary financing to succeed.”

“The nearly $350 million that goes to vouchers would sufficiently help the state move towards the $1.9 billion needed to fund (the school funding formula) in six years fully,” Cropper and Johnson wrote in the brief.

Along with ending voucher deductions, the coalition recommended continued funding for wraparound services for non-academic needs regarding the pandemic and “other adverse childhood trauma experiences.”

Susan Tebben is an award-winning journalist with a decade of experience covering Ohio news, including courts and crime, Appalachian social issues, government, education, diversity and culture. She has worked for The Newark Advocate, The Glasgow Daily Times, The Athens Messenger, and WOUB Public Media. She has also had work featured on National Public Radio.