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Preschool Promise expanding in and around Dayton

Preschool Promise agreed Thursday to a contract to offer free preschool to roughly 55 more 4-year-olds living in Dayton, and to begin working with Montgomery County officials to use increased sales-tax revenue to expand the preschool initiative in the county.

Dayton Public Schools will open three additional classrooms to serve 4-year-olds by August, under the contract, with Preschool Promise kicking in $371,000 for staff and benefits. This will bring DPS’s free preschool capacity to about 550 4-year-olds.

One of the classrooms is required to be in East Dayton, “which is a critical need for us,” said program director Robyn Lightcap. She said they have struggled to reach families in the northeast quadrant of the city.

Charmaine Webster, director of marketing at Preschool Promise, said they have had some success working with food pantries to reach parents east of the Little Miami River and north of the Mad River.

“That community is a lot more isolated,” she said. “We feel like meeting them where their need is is a big part of reaching east Dayton.”

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Preschool Promise is a non-profit funded by Dayton city income taxes, Montgomery County, Kettering and private donors. It offers preschool tuition assistance for kids in Dayton and Kettering, and programs to improve the quality of area preschools.

There are an estimated 1,917 4-year-olds in Dayton, nearly half of whom attended preschool through the program in the 2017-2018 school year. Several hundred more use the program in Kettering.

The agency is working with Montgomery County to expand the program to other parts of the county with assistance from a .25 percent sales tax increase approved by commissioners this week.

Lightcap said with the new tax revenue county funding for the program will increase from $1.2 million now to $4 million a year in five years. The agency is in discussion with the county on how best to spend those funds.

“This is not enough funding to expand across the entire county,” Lightcap said.

Montgomery County Commissioner Debbie Lieberman said they will likely look first to expand to first-ring suburbs like Mad River Schools or Jefferson Twp.

“Our hope is to some day have it universal, but it’s not going to happen in the next couple of years,” she said.

In addition to helping parents pay for preschool, a major initiative of the program is helping area providers improve their staff training and quality of services they offer.

The Preschool Promise board on Thursday discussed scholarship opportunities of up to $800 per semester for people working in Preschool Promise classrooms. Teachers who get an associate’s degree will get a $1,000 stipend.

“My hope is that we’ll have at least 30 people start this fall,” Lightcap said.

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