About 20 percent of Preschool Promise providers surveyed in Montgomery County said they are at risk of closure due to low enrollment and the COVID-19 pandemic, said Executive Director Robyn Lightcap.
Preschool Promise, which is funded by Montgomery County, the city of Dayton and philanthropists, works with 101 early learning sites to prepare 3- and 4-year-olds for kindergarten. The program serves children in seven school district geographic areas: Dayton, Jefferson Twp., Kettering, Mad River, Northridge, Trotwood-Madison and West Carrollton.
A survey of providers in late August found that 45% of them said enrollment was the same or higher than before the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020.
The remaining 55% of providers reported enrollment was lower.
Enrollment declines came after huge numbers of people lost their jobs during the pandemic, some of whom are still unemployed, and due to concerns about putting children in group settings where none of the kids are eligible for vaccinations. Some providers have also limited capacity due to the need for social distancing and staffing shortages, Lightcap said.
This week the Dayton Daily News published an investigation of the child care challenges facing families, which are contributing to difficulties businesses have retaining and attracting employees.
It’s not known how many child care centers or in-home providers closed permanently during the pandemic. But in Montgomery County there are currently about 350 licensed child care centers, home-based providers and preschools.
Enrollment data is available for 180 of them, which saw enrollment decline by 2,480 since the pandemic hit, said Richard Stock, director of the University of Dayton Business Research Center, which does data analysis for Preschool Promise.
Those 180 providers have 6,003 kids enrolled, including 2,463 in the Preschool Promise program. He said the decline at Preschool Promise providers was 494 children.
Child care centers and preschools were required to close in the spring of 2020, although special licenses were granted to some to provide child care to essential workers. Lightcap said Montgomery County offered tuition assistance to Preschool Promise families who had to keep working even as much of the nation closed down during the early months of the pandemic.
“When child care was allowed to re-open again later in the summer, Preschool Promise was able to provide additional financial support when programs had to shut down classrooms due to positive COVID-19 cases or exposure,” Lightcap said.
“We received generous grants from the Frank M. Tait Foundation and from PNC that allowed us to provide this support to families sending their children to child care and helped the providers stay afloat, along with PPP loans and grants from the state and county.”
Those grants helped early learning providers stay open despite the reduction in classroom sizes and increased costs for safety protocols, Lightcap said.
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