$4.3M Dayton preschool program needs more children

Preschool Promise could serve up to 1,600 4-year-olds, but despite tuition aid, attendance bonuses and an advertising campaign, few Dayton families have signed up so far for help attending the high-quality preschools.

“Right now, for the 17-18 school year, we have about 100 people who have applied (to Preschool Promise), and most of them are in Kettering,” Preschool Promise Executive Director Robyn Lightcap said. “We have a long way to go in getting more of our city of Dayton residents signed up.”

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Preschool Promise is the group managing $4.3 million per year from the city of Dayton’s income tax increase to improve preschool quality and access in the city. Some Kettering preschools are also involved via county, city and private funding.

Lightcap said more than 1,200 four-year-olds are expected to be served by Preschool Promise next school year. Many of those have applied to their school provider, as they would have in past years, but not to Preschool Promise, which handles the tuition assistance.

Lightcap said the maximum capacity for Preschool Promise in 2017-18 is roughly 1,600 children, meaning that by any measure, there are still several hundred seats available, with tuition assistance attached. The preschool effort is seen as a long-term strategy to boost education in Dayton, because most Dayton students are behind academically when they start school.

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Some students attend Head Start or Dayton Public Schools preschool, where there is no tuition. But the group is working to make sure the others know to apply for tuition assistance through Preschool Promise.

The Preschool Board on Wednesday approved a second financial incentive, for Dayton families who send their 4-year-olds to Preschool Promise-affiliated schools, and achieve certain attendance levels.

In the existing pilot program, more than half of preschoolers attend less than 90 percent of the time, and research shows lower attendance levels affect achievement and growth.

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So the Preschool Promise board approved a $25 bonus, to be loaded onto a family debit card, for each month that a Dayton preschool student achieves 90 percent attendance in 2017-18. There is also a $100 end-of-year bonus for students who achieve 93 percent attendance for the year. Lightcap called the program unique nationally.

Board member Michelle Riley called the attendance issue one of the most crucial facing the preschool program, and Clay Dixon called for the board to brainstorm with teachers, schools and parents to come up with a comprehensive attendance strategy.

“This is a big problem,” Lightcap said. “We’re investing a lot of time and resources into making preschool available, but if our children are not there, then they won’t get the (benefit).”

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Preschool Promise has also hired the first two part-time outreach specialists to lead a “field campaign” to raise awareness of preschool expansion. The group is interviewing more people this week to help in that effort.

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