Update from original publication: The Preschool Promise has now expanded tuition assistance to 3-year-olds who live in households with incomes of up to 200 percent of the poverty line.
CINCINNATI -- Cincinnati’s Preschool Promise does not currently plan to offer tuition to any of the city's 3-year-old children who attend a private preschool this year.
Cutting 3-year-old children off from funding for private preschools, including parochial or in-home preschools, is a reversal from what Preschool Promise leaders told voters they would get in return for passing a new school levy last November.
Voters overwhelmingly approved an annual $48 million Cincinnati Public School levy, with the promise that $15 million of that would be used to expand preschool access for the city’s 3- and 4-year-old kids. The levy last five years and costs the owner of a $100,000 home an extra $277 every year.
Now, Preschool Promise leaders say they might not have enough money to send some of the city’s most underprivileged 3-year-olds to preschool this year. The program officially launched Monday. Because of the levy, Cincinnati Public Schools has expanded preschool seats in its schools, including for 3- and 4-year-olds.
Earlier this summer, the Preschool Promise board limited tuition aid and enrollment for the program to 4-year-olds with a family that makes 200 percent of the poverty level or less. Leaders estimate more than 4,500 of the city's preschool-aged children live at or below the poverty level.
“As we’ve looked at the reality of the number of 4-year-olds and 3-year-olds in the community, we will really have to stretch to be able to cover both,” said Stephanie Byrd, the interim director for the Preschool Promise program.
This is the program’s first year, and Byrd said leaders are watching enrollment trends closely to see if they should lift some of those restrictions. She believes the board will consider accepting 3-year-olds or extending help to families who live at 300 percent of the poverty line or less.
“We’re trying to be flexible as we’re looking at the enrollment as it’s coming in … but also be mindful that it’s a limited amount of money, and a lot of children,” Byrd said. “I think we need to be a lot more fluid in this start up.”
Opening up tuition aid to families with 3-year-olds this year would require the board's approval.
Supporters of Preschool Promise campaigned on the idea, and stated in multiple news interviews, with multiple news outlets, that the program would reach 3-year-olds.
So far, 150 families have applied for tuition aid through Preschool Promise, Byrd estimated. Tuition aid helps families pay for private preschool. The program's enrollment numbers were not provided by this publication's deadline.
To apply for the Preschool Promise program, families can visit http://www.cincy-promise.org or call 513-447-4CPP
Cincinnati Public Schools, which offered preschool to 3- and 4-year-olds prior to the launch of Preschool Promise, has added extra seats for 3- and 4-year-old students as a result of the levy.
School started last Wednesday and as of Thursday, 1,600 kids – 300 more than last school year – were enrolled in Cincinnati Public’s preschool, said Dawn Grady, a spokeswoman for the district.
The school has begun dipping into some of the $15 million in Preschool Promise funding to expand those seats, Grady said Tuesday. Exact figures were not immediately available.
Those enrollment numbers are similar to what the Denver Preschool Program, which Cincinnati’s Preschool Promise is modeled after, saw when it launched a decade ago .
In its first year, the Denver Preschool Program enrolled just under 600 kids in public and private schools. The following year, enrollment skyrocketed to nearly 5,000.
Byrd said enrollment numbers will likely change in the coming weeks as more parents consider enrolling their children in preschool. She still hopes as many as 1,500 children will enroll through Preschool Promise this year.
“We expect the next few weeks will give us a more clear picture of what enrollment is going to be,” Byrd said.
More than 30 private preschools – from the YMCA to Catholic schools – across the city have signed up to offer Preschool Promise tuition for students. Students must attend a state quality-rated preschool that has a three-star rating or higher in order to be eligible for Preschool Promise help.
Roughly $6.7 million is budgeted for tuition aid and public preschool expansion this year, Byrd said.
Another $2.5 million is slated for grants that will improve local preschools, including home-based child care center, that don’t currently qualify to be a part of the Preschool Promise. Eight preschools have been accepted so far into that program. The program is meant to boost the number of quality preschool programs across the city.
Byrd said that aid will range, from helping some preschools with classroom equipment or curriculum development to providing help for instructors to earn bachelor’s degrees, for example.