Preschool Promise just started providing services to 3-year-old children who live in the Dayton public school district last fall, and so far about a quarter of the newly eligible kids are attending one of the group’s sites.
“We are very pleased with the number of 3-year-olds we have in this first year, especially with COVID continuing to impact preschool attendance,” said Robyn Lightcap, executive director of Preschool Promise. “We know it takes some time for families to understand they can now sign up their 3-year-olds, so we hope to see even more sign up for the 2022-23 school year.”
The Preschool Promise program — which launched in the 2017-2018 school year — has made a lot of progress in a short amount of time, said Dayton City Commissioner Chris Shaw.
“It’s just remarkable,” he said.
Preschool Promise is a nonprofit organization funded by Dayton, Montgomery County, grants and charitable donations that seeks to prepare children for kindergarten by helping them get into high-quality preschool programs.
The nonprofit provides tuition assistance, resources for families and works closely with teachers to improve teaching practices through workshops, coaching, professional development and other activities.
Preschool Promise operates in seven school districts: Dayton, Kettering, Northridge, Trotwood-Madison, Mad River, Jefferson Twp. and West Carrollton.
In Dayton, the program is funded using millions of dollars in revenue from the earnings tax increase voters approved in 2016.
About 1,236 children who are 4 years old attend one of Preschool Promise’s partner sites in Dayton, Lightcap said.
That equates to about 70% of children of this age within the DPS boundaries, she said. Dayton is home to 55 partner sites.
But last year, the nonprofit expanded the program to accept 3-year-old children in the Dayton school district.
In the first year, about 423 children of that age are attending partner sites, or about 24% of the newly eligible population.
Preschool Promise is working to grow enrollment and attendance, Lightcap said, and the organization has staff focused on outreach who attend and host events and sign up families before their children reach the ages of 3 or 4.
State assessments show that about two-thirds of DPS kindergartners who attended Preschool Promise sites were “approaching” or “demonstrating” readiness for school, Lightcap said.
By comparison, she said, about half of kindergartners who did not attend program sites earned the same readiness scores.
“Our vision is to help all children in Montgomery County be ready for kindergarten,” Lightcap said. “We do that by helping families, teachers, and preschool providers.”
Dayton Public Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Lolli said expanding Preschool Promise to 3-year-olds helps prepare more students for kindergarten because foundational skills, such as colors, numbers and shapes, will be taught earlier.
“In addition, students will learn classroom skills that are critical to being successful in kindergarten, such as sitting and listening to a teacher, standing in line, and following directions,” Lolli said. “When students begin kindergarten after having attended preschool, they are more likely to be academically successful for years to come.”
Enrollment at Preschool Promise sites fell sharply in the 2020-2021 school year, as COVID-19 led to closures, quarantines, staffing shortages and increased costs for providers, officials said.
But attendance in the 2021-2022 school year jumped up by 50%, as COVID lockdown and safety measures were eased and the program expanded eligibility to include younger kids in the DPS geography, as well as 4-year-olds in a new district (West Carrollton).
In addition to tuition and teaching and programming assistance, Preschool Promise also provides a stipend to teachers to boost their pay.
Dayton City Commissioner Matt Joseph said that, sadly, early childhood education is not a funding priority in the United States, and the field faces challenges like staff shortages because the pay is so inadequate.
He said this is a policy choice by lawmakers at the state and federal level, adding that community members who believe early childhood education is important should voice their opinions with elected representatives.
“It’s an expensive thing to send kids to preschool, but other countries figure out ways to do it,” he said. “It’s a policy choice, that’s not set in stone, that other people have figured out how to fix.”