In Dayton, Building a 21st Century Workforce Starts With High-Quality Preschool

September 5, 2017 - (4 min read)

This is a guest post from Nan Whaley, Mayor of Dayton, Ohio.

When I talk to citizens, the first thing they bring up is jobs –  jobs for themselves, jobs for their children.

When I talk to business leaders, the first thing they bring up is workers – workers for today, workers for tomorrow.

As Mayor of Dayton, Ohio I want to help connect the dots between these two priorities.

How can we make sure our children can compete in the 21st Century workplace? How can we provide businesses with the talented and skilled workers they are rightfully demanding?

We have to start at the beginning. We have to invest in high quality preschool. Giving children a great foundation for learning is how we will get children ready for Kindergarten and ensure they start school on track.

In Dayton, our voters are investing in our children and the next generation of workers. In November 2016, Daytonians resoundingly endorsed a 0.25 percent income tax increase to keep our city’s finances stable and to support a Preschool Promise.

Beginning this year, we are offering every Dayton family who has a 4-year-old child the chance to attend at least one year of high quality, affordable Preschool. Our families can choose from more than 70 provider sites in Dayton and nearby Kettering.

Dayton’s partners include Montgomery County, which provided critical support for the first Preschool Promise pilot in Kettering and continues to generously support the program, and Learn to Earn Dayton, our region’s cradle-to-career initiative.

Through the Preschool Promise, we are providing tuition assistance to families of all incomes, based on need and the quality rating of the Preschool they choose. And we are incentivizing families to choose strong Preschools (as evaluated under Ohio’s voluntary Step Up to Quality program).

But tuition assistance is just part of our strategy. Many of our high-need families already are receiving free or reduced-cost Preschool. What they do not have are sufficient high quality and convenient choices. That is why we are focusing on changing the Preschool landscape.

The Preschool Promise is providing high quality, professional development and individualized coaching to Preschool Promise classroom teachers. Just last school year, teachers received more than 2,000 hours of hands-on coaching.

Our other achievements include:

  • Preschool Promise has become an independent 501(c)(3) and its board of directors is led by the President of Dayton Children’s Hospital.
  • 100 percentof the Preschools that were part of Preschool Promise in 2016-17 are participating again this school year.
  • Thanks to their Preschool Promise coaches, all participating Preschool Promise programs that are unrated under Ohio’s Step Up to Quality rating program are on track to apply for a Star Rating by the start of the school year.
  • A “street team” is educating families about the importance of sending children to Preschool and of choosing a quality, Star Rated Preschool Promise program.
  • Nearly 20 parents have joined a Parent Advisory Board and are helping to ensure Preschool Promise policies and practices work well for families.

While it will take time to ensure high quality Preschools are in every Dayton neighborhood, Preschool Promise is helping our families do what is best for their children.

What have we learned so far?

  • Helping Preschools improve their quality is critical. That work is labor-intensive and expensive – but much less expensive than paying to catch up children later in their school careers.
  • Educating families about attendance is paramount. Many families do not appreciate that to be ready for kindergarten, children need to be at Preschool every day and on time.
  • Outreach to families and recruitment is a “ground game.” Families trust the word of other families.
  • Our messages to families and the public have to connect the dots between Preschool, kindergarten readiness, our children’s success in school and, ultimately, on the job.

I am so proud of the groundbreaking work that is happening in Dayton. There is no more important thing we can do for children and our future than to make sure every child comes to school ready to learn.

This is the first in a series of posts from members of the National League of Cities Mayors Education Policy Advisors Network (EPAN) highlighting the work their cities have done to ensure the success children and families in the education sector. 

nan whaley headshotAbout the Author: Nan Whaley, Mayor of Dayton, Ohio, is the first Dayton mayor to run for election unopposed.