Corban Learning Center in Mt. Auburn. Photo provided by Cincinnati Preschool Promise
By Cincinnati Herald staff and Laura Carr
Since voters overwhelmingly approved a historic investment in children in 2016, Preschool Promise has set an ambitious goal to make high-quality preschool available to every child in the Cincinnati school district. Now the number of children ‘school ready’ is at the highest level ever. Thousands of children are now in high–quality preschool and hundreds of preschool Providers have the support they need to achieve and maintain high quality programs.
Cincinnati Preschool Promise has leveraged the support of Cincinnati taxpayers to increase the number of high–quality preschool Providers within the Cincinnati Public Schools district boundaries. What was then a “promise” made to the Cincinnati community has now grown into a supportive network of businesses and early childhood education organizations lead by Cincinnati Preschool Promise.
Although many studies show how a high-quality preschool can make a significant difference in a child’s early development, the problems of cost and access often make it unavailable for many families, especially those living near or at the poverty level. Cincinnati Preschool Promise is helping to overcome these obstacles with quality improvement assessments, grants and tuition assistance for high–quality preschool programs.
“Every child in Cincinnati deserves a strong educational foundation,” said Michael J. Graham, S.J., chairman of the Cincinnati Preschool Promise board. “From the onset, we have focused on strengthening the Community Preschool providers in order to enhance their ability to provide high–quality services. We are encouraged by the joint efforts of the school district, Cincinnati Preschool Promise, parents with preschool age children and the business community in providing a comprehensive overview of preschool needs and a shared vision for supporting early childhood education.”
In 2016, a detailed analysis of early childhood education by experts at the RAND Corporation helped guide preschool education expansion efforts for high–quality preschools. Individual tuition assistance is available starting with the most economically disadvantaged children in Cincinnati. Quality improvement funding is available to help Community Providers within the Cincinnati Public Schools district raise their program offerings to the high quality standards mandated by the State of Ohio.
“We are uniquely positioned to improve the quality of preschools by helping Community Providers within the Cincinnati Public Schools district boundaries get star-rated under the State of Ohio’s Step Up To Quality initiative,” added Chara Fisher Jackson, Cincinnati Preschool Promise’s executive director and CEO. “Community Providers are an essential part of the early childhood education ecosystem.”
Preschool Promise Enrollment Surpasses First Year
Preschool enrollment is boosted by an increase in community and home-based providers, along with more Cincinnati Public Schools preschool classrooms. Preschool Promise provides tuition assistance and equitable access for qualified students whose families are unable to afford quality preschool. While some low-income families receive financial assistance from federal or state government to send their child to preschool, many families cannot afford to have their children participate. Cincinnati Preschool Promise funding fills this gap. The average tuition assistance provided for a preschooler in the 2018-2019 School year was $5,400. Cincinnati Preschool Promise tuition assistance is the ‘last dollar in’ after families have accessed other eligible funding sources to cover preschool costs.
High–quality preschools make a difference
“We help community providers increase their star quality rating to 3, 4 and 5 stars so we can offer tuition assistance to the parents of Cincinnati preschoolers who need it most,” said Jackson. “Parents need to understand their options. We are reaching out in different ways through community engagement and the media to make sure parents know their options and can make informed decisions with regard to their preschoolers.”
“Our goal is to provide 3- and 4-year olds with the strongest start possible in school and life. Creating more high–quality seats and filling those seats with students, leads to better kindergarten readiness. In the coming year, you will see us creating pilot programs, new opportunities and trying some out-of-the-box thinking to explore how we can do what we do more effectively.”
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 4,000 3- and 4-year-old children in Cincinnati are living at or below the poverty line. Cincinnati Preschool Promise is expanding income eligibility for families who are eligible for Cincinnati Preschool Promise tuition assistance by supporting families living up to 250% of the Federal Poverty Line (FPL) — equal to $62,750 for a family of four. Previously, tuition assistance was available for families living up to 200% FPL (equal to $50,200 for a family of four.)
“We know this preschool initiative matters. Measurable progress has been made toward influencing the outcomes of quality preschool programs that are aligned with the State of Ohio’s Step Up to Quality rating scale. The Year One evaluation results from a recently conducted Kindergarten Readiness Assessment shows attendance matters, preschool matters and it matters the most to those children with the greatest economic challenges,” said Graham. “The evaluation results inspire us to keep going. Preschool Promise tuition–assisted children show stronger academic readiness in kindergarten than their non-participating peers. I am proud of the work we have done and look forward to more promising results.”
According to its 2018-2019 Annual Report, Cincinnati Preschool Promise has worked with 111 community providers to increase their quality ratings. Only preschools with a three, four or five-star rating from Ohio’s Step Up to Quality rating system are eligible to be Preschool Promise partners. In addition to providing tuition assistance, Preschool Promise invests in raising the achievement of rising preschool programs by offering teacher support and coaching to programs to providers that have one or two stars or are unrated. “We are doing ground-breaking work in Cincinnati,” said Jackson. “We are delivering on the promise to make a difference for families and their children.”
Enrollment for Cincinnati Preschool Promise is ongoing. Families are encouraged to apply with their provider of choice. Most providers welcome personal visits before applying to preschool. A list of providers can be found on the Cincinnati Preschool Promise website. For more information call 513-447-4277 or visit www.cincy-promise.org/parents.
Providers, within the Cincinnati Public School boundaries, can find out how to join the growing list of Cincinnati Preschool Promise Community Preschool at www.cincy-promise.org/providers.