MANSFIELD — If you're an Ohio resident and a parent, you're likely eligible for $1,000.
The state legislature recently expanded its Ohio Afterschool Child Enrichment (ACE) educational savings account program, which provides qualifying families with a $1,000 credit per child for enrichment and educational activities.
For Richland County residents, that could mean piano lessons at Metronome Music, classes at Richland Academy of the Arts or day camps at sites like the Mansfield Art Center or the Ohio Bird Sanctuary.
Children in households with an adjusted gross income at or below 400 percent of the federal poverty levy are eligible for the program.
For the 2022-2023 school year, that's $111,000 for a family of four.
According to the Ohio Department of Education, students in the Mansfield City, Bucyrus City and Crestline Exempted school districts are eligible regardless of income due to EdChoice eligibility and/or high rates of chronic absenteeism.
Children ages 6 to 18 are eligible for funding. The money must be spent on allowed programming by the time the student graduates high school or it will be returned to the ODE.
The ACE program was created in 2021 to address pandemic learning loss. Initially, the amount families could receive per child was capped at $500. In January, legislators signed House Bill 45, which extends the program through the 2023-2024 school year and increases the per-child amount to $1,0000.
Families who joined the program before the amount was doubled have been credited another $500, according to the Ohio Department of Education.
The program is offered through a contract ODE and Merit International, Inc. a digital credentialing company in California.
To receive the funds, families must create a free OH ID account and request an Ohio ACE application. After completing the application, qualified parents and guardians will receive an email from Merit notifying them to receive for an account to receive access to their account funds.
"Some providers are paid directly through the Department’s vendor," said Lacey Snoke, ODE's chief of communications. "In other cases, parents pay the fee and are reimbursed.
"Our vendor Merit reviews claims for compliance with program requirements and the Department also reviews requests for payment."
ACE funds are available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Parents can apply for funds for the 2022-2023 school year until the end of June. Starting July 1, parents can apply for an account for the 2023-2024 school year.
Snoke told Richland Source approximately $80 million of the $125 million authorized for the program remains.
"We expect to fund accounts for an additional 80,000 students," she said.
The funds can be used only with pre-approved qualified education service providers (QESP) for specific activities. These activities include:
Before- and after-school educational programs
Day camps for academics, music and arts
Tuition for learning extension centers
Curriculum and materials for homeschool families
Educational, learning or study skills services
Tuition for learning pods
Field trips to historical landmarks, museums, science centers and theaters (including admission, exhibit and program fees)
The money cannot be used to purchase electronic devices or musical instruments. Snoke said the providers and services are carefully screened to make sure they comply with the rules.
At the time of publication, local providers included Metronome Music, Mansfield Christian School, Black Belt Pro Fitness, the Mansfield Art Center, Richland Academy of the Arts, the Ohio State Reformatory, the Ohio Bird Sanctuary, M1 Kids Academy, Inspirations Academy and First English Lutheran Church Early Learning Center.
Tony Sansalone of the Mansfield Art Center said families have been using ACE funds for private art classes, group classes and the upcoming Art Exploration Summer Camps.
At the MAC, families can pay out-of-pocket and submit a reimbursement claim to MERIT or submit a claim through Merit stating what they want to sign up for and when.
"Once their claim has been submitted, the MAC is able to accept or decline that offer," Sansalone said. "The MAC will then register the child for the class/camp mentioned in their claim."
Sansalone said families who choose to submit a reimbursement claim sometimes wait up to three months to receive the funds.
Inspirations Academy in Bellville offers customized educational experiences including science-focused summer programs, homeschool enrichment programs and one-on-one tutoring.
"We have families submitting Inspirations Academy receipts and many families who are in the process of enrolling with Ohio ACE with the intent of utilizing those funds for Inspirations Academy services," said Haley Black, the academy's co-founder and executive director.
"It’s a huge blessing to our families and our business."
Nate Wieland, community outreach director for Metronome Music, said the program has boosted its lesson revenue.
“We’ve seen a pretty steady increase since we signed up with the program," he said.
Half hour lessons are $24 per week regardless of instrument, so ACE funding could be used to cover up to 41 lessons. Metronome Music offers instruction in piano, guitar, bass, ukelele, drums, banjo, mandolin, clarinet, saxophone, flute, trumpet and trombone.
“Anything a fifth grader would start in school band, (we offer)," Wieland said. "It’s definitely enough time to get you started and see if that's an instrument you want to stick with.”