Families can apply now for the Dayton/Kettering Preschool Promise program, which aims to get more 4-year-olds into high-quality preschool next fall, with tuition assistance available at some sites.
The application is posted at PreschoolPromise.org, and organizers have 58 partner preschool/child-care sites in Dayton and 16 in Kettering. Some of them — Head Start and Dayton Public Schools preschools — are already free and can serve several hundred students, while others will accept tuition assistance for hundreds of other Preschool Promise families.
Robyn Lightcap, executive director of Learn to Earn Dayton, emphasized that tuition assistance will be available only at facilities that have earned a “star rating” under Ohio’s Step Up to Quality system. Organizers have cited research showing that students who attend a high-quality preschool program do better academically in the long run.
For all families, the first step is to apply.
“The Preschool Promise parent specialist will call if there’s any missing information (on a family’s application), or any questions, then let them know what level of tuition assistance they’re eligible for,” Lightcap said. “Then they’ll help walk them through the different options for preschool to help find something that works for their family.”
The local Preschool Promise board last month approved a wide-ranging $695,000 contract with 4C for Children, an agency that for decades has provided support for Southwest Ohio families seeking early childhood services.
Lightcap said 4C helped Learn to Earn Dayton run its early preschool expansion efforts the past few years. Now they will help process parent applications for Preschool Promise, as well as providing coaching for lower-rated preschools and child-care centers, to increase the number of high-quality centers available.
“They have the muscle already, since they’re the state-designated resource and referral agency,” Lightcap said. “That means they already provide services to parents to help them find child care.”
Preschool Promise Board Chair Debbie Feldman said organizers are planning a “full-court press” to get program information out to busy local families who may not have preschool as a top-of-mind issue. As part of that effort, the board in March approved a contract with The Ohlmann Group for an advertising campaign.
Kettering has been part of the local preschool expansion pilot project in recent years, and Cindy Smith, coordinator of the Kettering Early Childhood Education Center, said awareness of the program has grown significantly. She said three of the Kettering City Schools preschool sites for next year already have waiting lists.
“There has been a lot of momentum and it has reinforced the message in our community, that this has been a worthwhile use of funds, to identify kids who may not have ever been in a preschool classroom (so they can) make up for some lost time,” Smith said.
Smith said the county-based funding and support has allowed Kettering to lengthen the preschool day, add summer programs and provide staff training, such as an ongoing “conscious discipline” series. She said the tuition assistance is also important for kids who need some intensive preparation before kindergarten.
“Without this assistance, you’ve got a lot of parents who would just keep their children at home,” she said.
Much of the attention for Preschool Promise has focused on that tuition assistance – on a sliding scale based on family income, quality of preschool and other factors. The money comes from the city of Dayton income tax increase, Montgomery County funds, both school districts and private philanthropy.
But the program is heavily focused on “quality assistance” to help unrated and lower-rated centers improve their teaching, curriculum and materials. There are several unrated programs in both Kettering and Dayton listed as Preschool Promise partners. Even though families wouldn’t be eligible for tuition assistance there yet, Feldman said making quality improvements there is key for the long-term success of preschool expansion.
“The building blocks of the program are very strong,” she said. “The reality though is that this is not going to achieve everything we want in the first year. We have to be realistic in our planning and make sure each step … is thought through and effective. We’re looking not just at one year, but the next several years as this program builds up and gains momentum.”