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Step Forward hosts ARPA funding Announcement

Cuyahoga County – It was a packed classroom inside Louis Stokes Head Start Center Tuesday, October 25th, 2022, where Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb, civic and nonprofit leaders, including Step Forward’s President and CEO Dr. Jacklyn Chisholm, announced new funding from the American Rescue Plan Act.

The city plans to invest $4.4 million from its pandemic-relief funds toward early childhood education. According to Nancy Mendez, Starting Point’s President and CEO, about $2.5 million will go toward teacher retention and bonuses and approximately $1.9 million will be distributed as scholarships to help parents to help them pay for childcare and preschool.

“This won’t completely solve the problem, but it’s an early step in the right direction,” Bibb said.

According to Starting Point, there are 4,000 fewer children enrolled in early childhood education compared to years prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many fear that will have long-lasting effects.

How this latest round of funding will help with teacher retention

In August, Step Forward announced it, like many school districts and early childhood education centers nationwide, was facing a teacher shortage. As a result, the agency was not able to open about 24 classrooms throughout its ten directly operated Head Start centers in Cuyahoga County. Teachers and other educators admitted, while they loved the career and were passionate about teaching children, they needed financial stability.

“If you have ever had the privilege of watching children learn, you know it’s one of the most beautiful things,” Taja Salett, a co-teacher at Louis Stokes Head Start Center, said at the press conference. “I take pride in what I do. I love what I do. But the harsh reality is that this job doesn’t pay what it’s worth. That is leading to a lot of difficult questions for educators.”

Salett pointed out that the economy is worsening, and inflation remains high. It’s leading to a lot of teachers having to make difficult decisions.

“I have a family to provide for,” she said.

Chisholm weighed in at the press conference as well. She mentioned how Step Forward is losing teachers to public school districts and other business that pay more, including Target and Amazon.

“Education is key. You cannot get anywhere in this world without an education. That’s why this is so important,” she said. “We can’t teach without teachers. In fact, the classroom we’re currently in is closed because we don’t have a teacher.”

Behind Dr. Chisholm were several bins and cubbies with names on them. According to the Louis Stokes site administrator, children had started the school year in the classroom but were put back on the accepted list when a co-teacher resigned and the site could no longer meet the classroom's teacher-student ratio.

Cleveland City Council Member Stephanie Howse, District 7, said the latest round of ARPA funding that is aimed at recruiting and helping retain teachers in Cleveland will be put to use immediately.

"It's action like this that are at least trying to make an initial investment for the much larger work we have to do," she said.

Salett was happy to hear that.

“We are in 100 percent, trying to build the next generation. When we’re done teaching within these four walls, some of us go to a second job or we go home and give our all to our own children,” she explained, passionately. “This funding is a first step, so thank you. We have to do more to show teachers we appreciate them and invest in them as much as educators invest in Cleveland’s children.”

How $1.9 million will help parents access early childhood education