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Cincinnati's Preschool Promise is on the rebound from the pandemic, leaders say

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After setbacks during the pandemic, leaders say Cincinnati's effort to extend preschool to all families is growing again.

Cincinnati Preschool Promise released its annual report at a special board meeting Thursday night. That report shows the number of preschoolers receiving tuition assistance from the program increased 19% last school year.

The program's enrollment took a dip during the pandemic, but is now almost back to pre-COVID levels.

Progress on enrollment and in other areas is very encouraging, but there is more work to be done Board Chair Odell Owens says.

"When you rebound, yes, you're going back up, but you're still behind,” he said. "When you look at kids in the urban core and rural areas, they're already behind."

Owens says attendance is one area where the program could stand improvement. Another is how many eligible students it reaches.

More than 920 students received tuition assistance from Preschool Promise last year. That's up from 760 the year prior, though lower than the program's peak year so far in 2018-2019, when more than 950 students participated.

Census data suggests that about 6,000 children in the Cincinnati Public School district are eligible for the program. A student is eligible if they are three or four years old by Sept. 30, live in the Cincinnati Public School District, and are part of a family that is below 300% of the federal poverty level.

There are more preschool providers participating as well, according to the organization.

There were 135 providers taking the program's tuition assistance last school year, Preschool Promise's annual report says -- up from 115 the year prior. There were 40 providers during the program's first year.

The lingering effects of the pandemic will make expanding that number further a continuing challenge, Preschool Promise Executive Director and CEO Chara Fisher Jackson says.

"We're going to see for quite a long time the vestiges of that," she said. "That's why we say our providers put on capes. That's why there's a talent pipeline crisis. It's a hard job."

The nonprofit's annual report says 73% of students who go through Preschool Promise are ready for kindergarten afterward. That's down slightly from a 74.5% figure cited by leaders in previous years.

Voters approved a $15 million a year, five year levy to create Preschool Promise in 2016. About $11 million of that money went to providing financial assistance last year, according to the organization. The rest went to maintaining and improving the quality of preschool providers.

Since the program's launch, leaders say it has provided $41.6 million in tuition assistance to about 8,000 students.

The entire report is available here.

Nick Swartsell is a general assignment reporter for WVXU. Before his current role, he worked on the station’s Cincinnati Edition program as assistant producer and was a journalist for outlets in Cincinnati, Washington, D.C., and Texas prior to that. When he’s not reporting, he likes exploring places he probably shouldn’t on his bike, taking photos, and growing corn, tomatoes and peppers that are, in all honesty, much too hot for any practical use. He is from Hamilton. You can find him at @nswartsell on Twitter.