Elected officials and business leaders often claim preschool is one of the most impactful investments that can be made in a child’s life. Now, local officials and leaders are preparing to back that claim with the Cincinnati Preschool Promise.
The Cincinnati Preschool Promise is a pledge to support a broad public-private partnership to help put more low- and middle-income kids in preschool. The pledge, which began with the guidance of the Greater Cincinnati Foundation, doesn’t directly commit to any funding, but Shiloh Turner, vice president for community investment at the Greater Cincinnati Foundation, says the concept has generated a lot of excitement around the city.
Some of that excitement has created a buzz at City Council, with Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan in particular repeatedly praising the concept in speeches and press statements. When asked why she supports the Cincinnati Preschool Promise, Quinlivan responded, “Once you see the data, you just can’t ignore it.”
Indeed, high-quality preschool has been repeatedly found to be one of the best investments any community can make. Since the 1960s, the most influential research has found that a high-quality preschool education greatly boosts economic productivity and lifelong earnings and reduces the use of government resources, such as jails and welfare. For governments, that means more tax revenue and fewer expenses. For businesses, that means more capable employees.
It’s no surprise then that the Cincinnati Preschool Promise has gained support from nearly every major business and politician in the city. “It’s almost like, ‘Who hasn’t?’ ” says Turner.
Democratic mayoral candidates John Cranley and Roxanne Qualls, all City Council members except Charlie Winburn and Wendell Young, State Rep. Denise Driehaus, the presidents of Xavier University and the University of Cincinnati, all Cincinnati Public Schools board members and local business leaders are just a few of the people on the list, which has more than 150 signers.
While there’s been a lot of positivity surrounding the Cincinnati Preschool Promise, questions remain about the program’s funding.
Turner says early estimates put a preschool program at about $6 million to $9 million — a price she admits is hefty. For City Council, it’s a particularly difficult number to accept as the city faces a $35 million operating budget deficit in fiscal year 2014.
Quinlivan says there are a few areas in the operating budget that could be reprioritized to support a preschool program, but she emphasizes City Council hasn’t committed to any funding so far.
In contrast, some private donors are already stepping in. Crossroads Community Church raised $150,000 through a beans-and-rice campaign, which involves forgoing more expensive meals in favor of beans and rice and putting the savings toward donations. That money is now being used for a pilot program that Success by Six, which is part of United Way of Greater Cincinnati, is putting together to help get 25 to 50 local children in preschool in the fall.
The goal of the Cincinnati Preschool Promise isn’t just getting kids into preschool; the program will also attempt to guarantee that the education is high quality. Turner says the organizations involved will assess programs’ value through the state’s education standards, and that information will be made available to participants.
“We’re only going to support quality programs through this effort,” she says.
For participants, that quality could have a tremendous lifelong impact. A 2010 study from the University of Chicago looked at the cost-benefit and rate of return from the Perry Preschool Program, an early education program conducted at the Perry Elementary School in Ypsilanti, Mich., in the early 1960s.
The initial cost was high at $17,759 per child, but the research found the investment worthwhile, producing 7 percent to 10 percent in a “social rate of return” each year, which accounted for higher earnings, lower use of welfare, reduced crime and other factors.
The paper concluded, “These estimates are above the historical return to equity, but generally below estimates reported in previous studies.” In other words, even though the results were lower than the results in previous studies, the preschool program was still a better investment than the stock market.
Recently, the Denver Preschool Program (DPP), which provides tuition support and quality measurements for preschools, has become a nationally recognized preschool program — one that Quinlivan cites as ideal for Cincinnati to follow. A 2012 report on DPP by Augenblick, Palaich and Associates (APA) found the program enabled more parents to work or attend school and economically lifted low- and middle-income families.
The program, which emphasizes quality as well as access, also encouraged Denver preschools to take quality more seriously, according to the APA report: “The survey results illustrate that DPP continues to have a positive influence with the program leading to improvements in preschool provider quality. Preschools reported modifying professional development, modifying curriculum and increasing their number of teachers; all as a result of DPP.”
Quinlivan says that a stronger preschool program could also bring people to Cincinnati.
“We already know that families make choices about where they live based on schools,” she says. “Imagine if we could advertise that we will help you pay for quality preschool if you live in Cincinnati. We’re going to get a lot more residents.”
The local positivity toward preschool stands in grim contrast to what’s happening at higher levels of government. While President Barack Obama has called on Congress to support more preschool funding, federal legislators have been fairly quiet on the issue, and they allowed federal sequestration, a series of across-the-board budget cuts that included cuts to education, to begin on March 1.
In Cincinnati, the sequestration cuts cost the Cincinnati-Hamilton County Community Action Agency $1 million, forcing the agency to drop 200 kids from the Head Start program, which helps low-income families get their children into early education programs. ©