Lots of work ahead on Dayton preschool effort

Supporters of Dayton’s preschool expansion thanked voters Wednesday for passing a city income tax hike to fund the program, but also said there is a lot of work ahead.

Robyn Lightcap, executive director of Learn to Earn Dayton, which has helped drive the effort, said there are big-picture needs, as well as immediate steps.

“We certainly have a big list ahead of us — to help educate our parents about the importance of high-quality preschool and how to find it; and working alongside the preschool providers to help them meet the state’s quality benchmarks and go beyond that,” Lightcap said.

Lightcap said the first concrete step is to establish the 501(c)(3) nonprofit group that will have “the fiduciary responsibility and oversight for making Preschool Promise happen.”

County officials hope to eventually take this preschool expansion countywide. Because of that, Learn to Earn officials have said the plan is for the nonprofit to have four trustees appointed by city commission and three by the county commission for the first four years, after which the county would appoint four and the city three.

Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley cautioned that details were not yet firm one day after voter approval, adding that the city’s legal department likely would be involved in getting the nonprofit filed.

“We talked about putting together a group like a board that would help steer us on this, and the commissioners and I haven’t even had a conversation about who those folks would be,” Whaley said. “We’re going to … make sure that we get the right team in place to oversee this and make sure it’s accountable and we’ll go from there.”

Asked if the city would take applications for those positions, Whaley said it was too early to know.

Dayton voters approved Issue 9 by a 56-44 ratio Tuesday, meaning the city income tax will increase from 2.25 percent to 2.50 percent, starting Jan. 1 and lasting the next eight years.

The tax increase is expected to raise about $11 million annually, of which $4.3 million would go toward making high-quality preschool available for all of the roughly 1,900 4-year-olds in the city of Dayton.

Most of the money would go toward tuition assistance for families and “quality assistance” to help existing preschool and child care centers upgrade their programs so they can provide high-quality preschool as defined by the state’s star-rating system. Lightcap said money could also be used to expand existing high-quality preschools, such as Dayton Public Schools’ 14 five-star centers.

Learn to Earn is currently running a “demonstration project” of preschool expansion in Dayton and Kettering, serving several hundred students, with tuition assistance on a sliding scale based on income, family size and quality of school.

Lightcap cautioned that the scale is not guaranteed to remain the same in the expanded program. But currently, with some caveats, a family of four earning $35,000 per year would receive $400 per month for one child to attend a 2-Star program full time or $800 a month for a 5-Star program. That same family earning $85,000 per year would receive $130 per month to attend a 2-Star program or $250 a month for a 5-Star program.

Lightcap said one goal is to especially help lower-middle class and middle class families that don’t qualify for the state and federal funding that the poorest families get. She also said financial assistance would only go to providers who meet educational requirements, adding, “we’re not just paying for babysitting.”

Said Whaley, “To do a new program in the city of Dayton … with high-quality pre-K says a lot about the belief in our community that we are moving forward and that we believe in our future by investing in ourselves.”

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