YMCA staff member in blue logo shirt colors with student in dark blue t-shirt.
YMCA staff working with a child at one of their day camps. ACE funds can be used for these camps. Credit: Y-USA

Parents and caregivers have a new opportunity to get their kids involved in after-school sports, swim lessons, summer camp, and daycare without having to pay an arm and a leg. The YMCA of Greater Cleveland is now part of a state program that recently expanded its income eligibility to include a larger pool of Greater Cleveland residents. 

The Ohio Afterschool Child Enrichment program (ACE), an educational savings account system created by the Ohio Department of Education, awards families who qualify money to pay for educational and enrichment activities for kids ages 6 to 18. Through the state website, families can choose from a variety of providers ranging from the YMCA to tutoring centers.

The ACE program expands

ACE scholarships are now available to more families and in higher amounts than in previous years. In April, the state increased funding per student from $500 to $1,000 per year and expanded income eligibility to 400% of the federal poverty level—for a family of four, that’s $111,000 a year.

Families who already received $500 this school year will automatically have an additional $500 deposited into their accounts.

Ohio has authorized $125 million for the program for the 2022-23 school year, according to Lacey Snoke, spokesperson for the Department of Education. Approximately $80 million of that funding has not been used, and the department expects the remaining funding to cover scholarships for about 80,000 more students.

A step closer to their mission

The Cleveland YMCA became a certified provider for the ACE program in December 2022. It offers various youth development programs before and after school (also known as Y-Club), day camps focusing on sports and fine arts, and youth swimming lessons and other wellness activities. ACE recipients can use their money to pay for any of these programs.

See all eligible Y programs here.

Natisha Bowling, vice president of youth development at the Cleveland YMCA, told Signal Cleveland that becoming an ACE provider brings the YMCA closer to its mission of serving all members of the community. 

“This is an opportunity for families who are usually not able to afford [YMCA services] to afford our programs. This opportunity opens up that ‘all’,” she said. 

A YMCA youth soccer program. Credit: Y-USA

Bowling said that since the YMCA provides wellness programs for the entire family, not just for kids, ACE gives participating families the opportunity to afford a healthier lifestyle.  

Unlike some ACE programs, the YMCA does not require parents and caregivers to pay anything up front or submit reimbursement requests. Families can spend their savings account dollars on Y programs directly through the online system.

The Cleveland Y team said that so far they have approved ACE payments for 24 families.

Students get more opportunities

Parents can find a list of all ACE providers in their area through the ACE Education Marketplace. Recipients do not have to use all their funds at one location. The savings account model allows parents and children to choose activities and programs. 

Other ACE providers offer tutoring programs, language classes, study skills sessions and music lessons.

Do I qualify?

To qualify for the ACE program, children ages 6 through 18 (who have not yet graduated from high school) must meet at least one of the following requirements:

  • Live in a district identified as having a high rate of chronic absenteeism or have one or more schools identified as EdChoice eligible. In Cuyahoga County, these districts include CMSD, Bedford City Schools, Cleveland Heights-University Heights Schools, East Cleveland City Schools, Euclid City Schools, Garfield Heights City Schools, Maple Heights City Schools, Parma City Schools, Richmond Heights Local Schools, and Warrensville Heights City schools. Here’s a full list of eligible school districts in Ohio.
  • Live in a household with an adjusted gross income (AGI) at or below 400% of the federal poverty level based on the household’s most recent federal income tax return. For a family of four, that’s $111,000 a year.
  • Part of a family that participates in programs such as Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Ohio Works First (OWF) or other government social programs with eligibility at or below 400% of the federal poverty level.

How to sign up

The Ohio Department of Education has a step-by-step guide on how to apply for the ACE program. The guide shows how to access the application from within your Ohio ID account. 

Applications for the 2022-2023 school year (including summer 2023) are currently open. Applications for 2023-2024 will open in July.

Here are the basics of what you’ll need to apply: 

  • Your Ohio ID account information. If you don’t have an Ohio ID account, you can create one here.
  • Proof of residency. This can be a utilities bill or mortgage statement.
  • Name and birth date of qualifying children.
  • Proof of household income–your most recent tax return or transcript.
  • Proof of participation in government social programs such as Medicaid, SNAP or OWF.

Once the ACE application is complete, you will receive an email from Merit International Inc., the government technology company the Ohio Department of Education partners with for this program. The email will tell you how to set up your educational savings account and begin shopping for programs.

Any additional questions can be directed to ace_savingsaccount@education.ohio.gov

K-12 Education Reporter (he/him)
Paul, a former City Year Cleveland AmeriCorps member based in a charter school, covered K-12 education for Signal Cleveland until August, 2023. Paul joined us from Cleveland Documenters, where he focused on creating infographics and civic tech to make public information more accessible. Paul is also a musician, photographer and graphic designer.