Erica Crawley has served as a county commissioner in Franklin County, OH, since 2021, and is a former member of the Ohio House of Representatives. During her tenure, Commissioner Crawley championed the creation of a child care support team that recommended ways Franklin County could invest its federal COVID-relief funds to support kids. This work led Franklin County to allocate $22.5 million of its American Rescue Plan funding to initiatives to support early childhood providers and families with young children. That represents nearly 9% of the county’s State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds. Specifically, the federal relief funds pay for early learning scholarships for families, incentive payments for licensed child care centers and home-based providers, and rental support for child care workers.

We spoke with Commissioner Crawley about her work to support children, families, and child care providers in Franklin County. You can watch the full video interview and read an edited version of our conversation below.



Children’s Funding Project: I’d like to begin by asking about the political landscape at the time you championed using American Rescue Plan funding to support children and youth. How much support did the effort have? Did you face any opposition? Also, how has your community typically viewed funding to support programs for children and youth?

Commissioner Crawley: Absolutely. And thank you so much for the question. So I’m trying to think back to 2020 and 2021. We knew that the child care landscape as a whole, not just in the state of Ohio, but across the country was already unsteady. As you know, and probably everyone who will watch these videos knows that it was already unstable. Then the pandemic just wreaked havoc on the industry, especially for providers, and making sure that teachers were in a safe working environment.

I was in the [state] legislature at the time, but also working with Franklin County. We had a mandate that was going into effect trying to make all our child care providers at least 1 star rated in order to continue to get publicly funded.

So, we had that effort, but then when it came to supporting families and making sure that providers could keep their doors open, providers were saying that they were going to be closing within one month, and if not within one month, within three months. And here Franklin County is the largest county in the state of Ohio—we have 1.35 million residents. We had over 900 providers, center and home-based, and a number of them were closing their doors. Just to give some reference between August 2020 and August 2022 we had more than 230 providers close their doors.

During 2020-2021 there was a task force that was put together called our Recovery and Resiliency Task Force, which came up with recommendations on how we could invest our [American Rescue Plan] dollars to try to stabilize the child care industry.

By the time that I left and resigned from the [state] legislature to come down to the county and become county commissioner, the city of Columbus—which is our largest city—had dedicated a little over $2.5 million to different incentives, mainly making 250 scholarships available for families and then signing bonuses for teachers to stay on or to sign up to be a teacher.

Because we already had this Recovery and Resiliency Task Force—which had internal stakeholders, outside stakeholders, providers, and family members—we wanted to do something a little bit more impactful than what the city did. We always have input from our community and I’ll tell you about that in a little bit.

Because our task force has put together some recommendations working with our resource and referral agency Action for Children, we felt like the recommendations that came out of that were pretty solid, and we wanted to go ahead and take as many of those as we could and put as much funding in there to stabilize it.

But also not just to stabilize child care. We wanted to stabilize it, but we also knew that we had a bigger vision in mind.

We decided to invest in the scholarships, which made 500 scholarships available up to $10,000 per family. Then we have six incentive awards for providers to try to keep their doors open:

  1. During the pandemic, if you [a provider] continued to take publicly funded child care and chose not to discontinue [accepting the subsidy], we just want to say thank you. Thank you for continuing to support families in that way. And so here, we will give you anywhere from $1,000 to $2,500 [for accepting public dollars].
  2. If you were not star rated, you came in after the mandate, but then decided to get star rated you could get an incentive for that. If you [as a child care provider] were already star rated and moved up the quality rate and you got a 3, 4, or 5 star, you can get up to $10,000 as a provider.
  3. If you kept your doors open during those nontraditional hours, which we heard from the community was a problem especially for those who are frontline workers, during the 6 p.m to 6 a.m. time frame and then on the weekends you can get an award.
  4. If you opened up a new publicly funded child care agreement or if you didn’t take publicly funded child care before and you’re willing to now we wanted to say thank you.
  5. If you [as a provider] needed training and technical assistance for anything, whether it was getting money from the state or from the county and navigating the bureaucracy and red tape we provide training and technical assistance for every provider free of charge.
  6. Then the last part of the incentives that we came up with that wasn’t in the recommendations is supporting our workers. The first thing we looked at is trying to increase wages to get more people into the industry and not leave. But that was going to be around $54 million to $56 million a year. We just saw that as being unsustainable but because we knew, on average, that our teachers only make about $12 an hour here in the state of Ohio. A lot of them are on [public] assistance themselves coming through our job and family services, trying to get benefits. We wanted to be able to support them with rent and utility assistance, and so we put $500,000 aside just for rent and utility systems for teachers.

Children’s Funding Project: Wow! That is a lot. And it’s really a comprehensive approach. I’m curious to hear you speak about what you learned from this process. What were some of your main takeaways about how we fund children and youth in this country, particularly in your county?

Commissioner Crawley: Absolutely. So what we found just from the standpoint of not getting any pushback with such a significant investment in our kiddos and families is as long as we continue to engage our community, and they feel like their voices are heard that they have a stake in what the county does with dollars, then we never really received any pushback.

And I’ll talk about that from our Rise Together poverty blueprint framework, [which] is a framework of how we spend our dollars here in the county based on what the community said our priorities are.

We have 13 goals and 120 action items. But under those 13 goals, one of those goals is making early childhood education more affordable, accessible, and high quality.

Because we had this year-long focus group in different parts of the county to gauge how we should spend dollars, not just [American Rescue Plan] dollars, because this came before the pandemic, any dollars that the county has. The community spoke. That is our framework, and we operate inside of that.

We’ve done that with all our dollars. During the pandemic, we did the same thing—engaged voices. What we continue to find out pre-pandemic, during pandemic, and as we’re navigating out of it and still serving our community is that people are willing to invest in our kiddos. They understand the return on investment. They understand that even for people who don’t have children themselves, they see how it moves our community forward, and so you know for the county when it comes to investing in our kiddos, we know that we aren’t the end all, be all. We can’t do it by ourselves.

We’re continuing to engage the business community. We call it here the partnership which is our large fortune 500 companies to let them understand that we always have the public dollars at the table, but this has to be a public-private partnership and that it is usually an infrastructure issue that we’ve been dealing with during the pandemic. If you don’t have employees because they can’t go to work because they don’t have child care then that impacts everything.

I think we’re doing a little bit better than some other counties around the state of Ohio who don’t have as many dollars. People don’t understand the return on investment, or there is that thought that you know public dollars shouldn’t go for taking care of other people’s children.

We don’t have that here. It’s not other people’s children. These are all of our kiddos. I think that’s what I’ve been able to really see during the pandemic that everybody here, for the most part, feels like these are all of our kiddos, and we have a shared responsibility to make sure that they’re taking care of and that education is quality and accessible for everyone.

Children’s Funding Project: As you know, Commissioner, at Children’s Funding Project the national polls that we conduct support exactly what you shared: when presented with the opportunity to invest in children and youth, people see the value.

I also love how you talk about community engagement. That’s a phrase that is thrown around often. I love that you have a framework that you presented, and you say this is the framework we will work with. These dollars, those dollars, doesn’t matter; we will be working in this framework and there’s a consistency that the community is used to.

I want to end with just one note of advice. This series is geared toward elected leaders. Is there any particular advice or insight you would offer other electeds who are interested in pursuing something similar, particularly since American Rescue Plan dollars will expire soon?

Commissioner Crawley: I would say, for those who still have dollars—or even if you don’t have dollars and you’re looking at your general fund dollars or how to spend dollars—one thing that I have heard continuously is this sentiment that elected leaders have an idea of how they want to spend dollars, and then they take their idea to the people and the other elected leaders just to get validation and buy in, but that there really hasn’t been a lot of flexibility in where those dollars can go. I would say, be flexible. Even for us right now, even though we put money aside in different categories, we made it broad enough that if we have to shift based on the changing needs [we can].

For elected leaders, I would say just be open to whatever the community, the stakeholders, the experts say is needed at this time and understand that that might be different in six months. So we want to be able to continue to meet those needs.

As you’re looking at investing dollars, signing new contracts with nonprofits and supporting them, try to make sure that the language is in a way that you can always change to meet the changing need, and then continue to engage parents and families. We know that parents look all different kinds of ways, and so let’s be able to have their voices be heard as well as our kinship providers and our caretakers

Children’s Funding Project: Thank you, Commissioner Crawley, for joining me today.

To learn more about how Franklin County is using its American Rescue Plan dollars to support children, read our profile Expanding Access to High-Quality Child Care in Franklin County, OH.

To see how much American Rescue Plan funding is flowing into your community, search our interactive database, which documents the funding available to all 50 states, U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia as well as more than 27,000 counties, cities, and towns.

To watch additional interviews with elected leaders in our series, check out our recent conversations with Philadelphia, PA, Mayor Jim Kenney and U.S. Congressman Greg Landsman, a former member of the Cincinnati, OH, City Council.

Reginald Harris is a senior fellow at Children’s Funding Project.