Michelle Houston wanted to send her daughters to art camp this summer at Heritage Christian School.
But the cost of $175 for each girl to attend the four-day session was more than Canton’s mother of five could afford.
Then, Heritage Christian leaders told her about a new source of funding through the state where she could get $500 for each of her school-age children so they could participate in summer activities. and extracurriculars.
“I thought it was awesome,” Houston said. “… I want to make sure my kids can socialize over the summer and get out of the house. They can go out; they can see their friends. They both love art and they love to draw.”
The girls, Makayla, 12, and Allison, 11, ended up attending three art camps at Heritage Christian where they learned to use nature in artwork, paint with acrylics, pastels and oil paints and paint on fabric.
The Houston family used the new Afterschool Child Enrichment Education Savings Account to cover the cost. Ohio lawmakers designated $125 million of the state’s federal coronavirus relief funds during the state’s last two-year budget cycle to fund the ACE program to help students recover from learning loss caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Through ACE, a family whose income is at or below 300% of the federal poverty level ― that is, up to $79,500 in income per year for a family of four ― is eligible for a $500 credit for each child aged 6 to 18. The money, which is available to any student homeschooled or in a public, private or charter school, is intended to pay for learning activities outside the classroom, such as educational before and after programs. school, day camps, educational outings, tutoring and language or music lessons.
The ACE program offers a online marketplace which lists about 500 different agencies that have been approved to provide services and activities. Families can also pay for an activity at a business or agency not listed on the ACE Marketplace and then request a refund.
ACE intended to help overcome the COVID slide
Colleen Grady, senior program manager for education options and policy at the Ohio Department of Education, said the money was intended to help families cope. some of the challenges that students continue to face due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
She said the money can help students re-engage in learning activities, provide interaction for students who may not have been readily available at the height of the pandemic, and can help students to catch up academically.
“This is for families who may not have a lot of extra resources to hire tutors or access meaningful activities like taking kids to museums,” Grady said. “In a broad sense, it provides more opportunities.”
The ACE program began accepting applications last April, and 7,885 Ohio families used the program between April and June 30. A new round of funding began on July 1.
Grady said initial enrollment numbers were low — more than half of Ohio students ages 6 to 18 are from families that fall under ACE program guidelines — because awareness was low.
“It was something brand new, so people didn’t really know about it,” she said. “As it’s been around a bit longer, people are getting to know it better and more vendors are being added to the market. Interest is growing.”
Grady said the state Department of Education and Merit International, which is the company providing eligible families with their ACE savings accounts and tapping into the vendor marketplace, spent July streamlining the ACE system. to make it easier for families to register and see how much money is available in their accounts.
The Department of Education has also stepped up its efforts to promote the program. The department hosted a booth at the Ohio State Fair where families could check their eligibility and register for ACE.
Grady said more agencies that offer after-school programs or excursion opportunities are also signing up to become an ACE Approved Provider, which will also help get more families interested in the program.
More education news:Stark State College will create an artificial intelligence training program
What educational activities are offered for Stark County?
A search for ACE market for Stark County brings together more than 150 vendors. A handful of agencies are located in Stark County, with most providers located in surrounding counties. Some of the vendors are from out of state.
Agencies based in Stark County range from local public and private schools offering tutoring and extracurricular activities to local businesses offering music lessons, dance lessons, and martial arts. Out-of-county providers serving Stark County offer a variety of educational programs, textbooks for Christian schools and homeschoolers, equine therapy, summer camps, mentoring programs, speech therapy, and a variety of resources for homeschooled parents.
Heritage Christian superintendent Sharla Elton said about 15 students used ACE funds to pay for art, music and other summer activities offered by the school.
“Parents love involving their students, and it’s free, so that’s even better,” she said.
Elton plans to offer tutoring and after-school programs this fall. The programs would also be available to students who do not attend Heritage, she said.
“My goal would be to have a sort of catalog of options that parents could choose from,” she said. “This could include after-school tutoring, art camps, drumming and literacy that we could provide for families – our (Legacy) families and any other families in the community where they could use these funds. (ACE).”
The local school district of Osnaburg was recently approved as an authorized ACE provider. The district and local green schools are the only traditional public school districts listed as ACE-approved providers for Stark County.
Osnaburg Local Superintendent Kevin Finefrock said the district is still in the early stages of its rollout.
“We saw this as a really good opportunity for our families,” Finefrock said.
He said the district plans to offer reading and math tutoring and is considering offering experiential learning opportunities, such as field trips. The district does not currently offer after-school tutoring.
He said the district will begin promoting ACE funds during its back-to-school information sessions and in communications to families. A staff member will also be responsible for helping families register for the ACE program and answering questions.
More information about the ACE program is available at www.aceohio.org.
Contact Kelli at 330-580-8339 or [email protected].
On Twitter: @kweirREP