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Preschool board may trim tuition aid to families in $5.6M budget

Dayton’s Preschool Promise Board wrapped up its first year Thursday, approving a $5.6 million budget for calendar year 2018, and proposing lower tuition assistance amounts for the 2018-19 school year.

“We are looking at reducing our tuition assistance table,” Executive Director Robyn Lightcap said, adding that a vote is likely at the Jan. 18 meeting. “We need to get 400 more kids in Dayton (to attend), we need to help the … programs that are not yet higher-quality, and we want to make sure our budget allows room to do that.”

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Preschool Promise has focused on giving financial assistance to families so preschool is more affordable, but also on training preschools and child care centers to raise their educational quality levels. They cite research showing that low-income children maintain academic gains only when the schools are high-quality.

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The 2018 budget approved Thursday shows 46 percent of funds devoted to “expanding quality” and 36 percent allocated to “assisting families,” which includes pure tuition assistance as well as some employee costs, and family attendance bonuses.

In the 2017-18 school year, full-time 4-year-old Preschool Promise students are receiving from $1,800 to $9,000 in tuition assistance based on a sliding scale that includes household size, income, and the preschool’s Ohio star rating.

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Full-year preschool in Montgomery County can range from $7,000 to $14,000 per year, with higher-quality programs often above $12,000. Lightcap said many families have told Preschool Promise the tuition assistance has been key to their participation.

The highest levels of local aid go to lower-middle class families, because the poorest families are eligible for separate federal assistance. Tuition assistance money comes from city of Dayton income tax, Montgomery County funds, the Dayton and Kettering school districts, and private donors.

Enrollment levels

Data given to the Preschool board on Thursday showed that just over 50 percent of eligible 4-year-olds in Dayton and Kettering are enrolled at Preschool Promise sites. Of those students, roughly 80 percent attend three-star schools or better in the state’s five-star system.

The program’s long-term goal is to have 70 percent of eligible Dayton 4-year-olds enrolled. One step is working to improve the quality of existing schools that serve about 225 students. But there’s a bigger challenge.

“We need to get 400 more children in Dayton to start attending a Preschool Promise site, and we are estimating that a big chunk of that number needs to come out of East Dayton, because that’s where we are so underrepresented,” Lightcap said. “We have a lot of work to do with our partners to see exactly how that’s going to shake out.”

Preschool notes

** Four line-items in the 2018 budget account for $4 million of the $5.6 million budget — tuition assistance ($1.4 million), coaching and training for schools ($945,000), contracts to support Dayton Public Schools and Miami Valley Child Development Centers’ free programs ($890,000), and employee costs ($735,000).

** After a clunky paper application process this year, Preschool Promise is working with a vendor to create a streamlined online application process for 2018-19.

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