The Preschool Promise board met for the first time Wednesday, with Learn to Earn Dayton officials sharing pages and pages of data to make sure new board members are up to speed on expanding preschool access in Dayton.
The five-member board, chaired by Dayton Children’s CEO Debbie Feldman, will oversee upcoming preschool expansion in Dayton, funded by part of the recently approved city of Dayton income tax increase.
“This is not a simple problem. There are a lot of factors that impact our children’s readiness for kindergarten …” Feldman said. “We’re going to be very thoughtful about how these taxpayer dollars will be used to achieve the goal, which is kindergarten readiness, and ultimately school success.”
Robyn Lightcap, executive director of Learn to Earn Dayton, presented an aggressive draft timeline to the board for the coming months. It calls for meetings with preschool providers this month, a marketing blitz in March and a primary application period in April, all pointing toward the start of the new school year in August.
“We have learned from the previous two years that we really have to get our providers on board now if we’re going to have time to go through their applications, approve them and then promote them as we recruit families into programs,” Lightcap said.
Each of the next eight years, roughly $4.3 million from Dayton’s city income tax increase will go toward increasing high-quality preschool access for 4-year-olds in the city of Dayton. Most of the money will go toward tuition assistance for families and “quality assistance” to help preschools upgrade and expand their programs.
Feldman was appointed to the board by Montgomery County commissioners, and the other members were appointed by Dayton City Commission. They are former Dayton Mayor Richard Clay Dixon, former Dayton Public Schools administrator Jane McGee-Rafal, Foodbank CEO Michelle Riley, and WPAFB worker/Preschool Promise Advisory Board member Anissa Lumpkin. Parent Tasha Maye is an ex-officio member of the board.
University of Dayton economist Richard Stock talked about poverty levels and eligibility for certain preschool and childcare programs. Nearly 70 percent of Dayton 4-year-olds come from families below 125 percent of the poverty line.
Stock’s maps also showed that different quadrants of the city offer varying access to high-quality preschool. Northwest Dayton (home of DPS’ Rosa Parks center and two Head Start locations) has 463 high-quality preschool seats for 499 4-year-olds. But southeast Dayton has only 316 high-quality preschool seats for 768 kids.
That led to a debate over the definition of “high-quality” preschool. Lightcap said Learn to Earn has been referring to 3-star and higher programs in the state rating system as high-quality, but she said that’s an imperfect standard.
“We will spend a lot of our resources and time and energy wrestling with this very important topic – what does quality really look like?” she said.
Board members had a variety of initial concerns. Feldman focused on that quality issue, while McGee-Rafal talked about the experience deficit some kids have in their early years. Riley emphasized the importance of quality teachers, and Dixon worried about the impact of non-school issues on children’s preparation for school.
Lumpkin was glad to get all the data presented Wednesday, but wanted to see actual preschool settings to understand the differences between school-based, home-based and other programs.
Chas Kidwell, attorney for the preschool board, said articles of incorporation for the board have been filed with the state, and an application for federal tax-exempt status is in progress.
At the group’s next meeting Jan. 13, the board is expected to approve bylaws and a conflict of interest policy, as well as vote on initial leaders – Feldman as board chair, Lumpkin as vice chair and Riley as secretary/treasurer.