Billionaires choose Dayton for project
$12M to fund initiative to address economic mobility at young age.
By Cornelius Frolik
Staff Writer


Dayton is one of 10 U.S. cities to be selected for a national initiative aimed at improving economic mobility and funded by the charities of some of the wealthiest people in the nation.

The philanthropies of Bill and Melinda Gates, Michael Bloomberg and Steve Ballmer have provided $12 million to help Dayton and nine other cities develop, pilot and measure specific intervention programs intended to help people climb the economic ladder.

Dayton’s project seeks to create parental engagement with high-quality early childhood education using innovative outreach methods, such as “thinkscape” playground-type areas that are designed to promote childhood brain development.

Dayton, which in the past has ranked low nationally for upward mobility, will receive technical assistance from a team of experts and will receive funding support for its pilot program.

“Dayton was selected because of its commitment to economic opportunity for its residents,” said Andrea Coleman, senior program officer at Bloomberg Philanthropies.

“This new initiative will support Dayton in testing and measuring an intervention focused on increasing parental engagement in early education programs, which will help Dayton and others understand how to best ensure critical early support for their youngest residents.”

In the next year and a half, 10 cities in eight states will test a variety of intervention projects and track the results to see if they lead to expanded economic opportunities, officials said.

The new initiative, which was first unveiled last fall, is in response to declining economic mobility and growing income inequality. The work is supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Ballmer Group.

“These pioneer cities will not only expand opportunity for their own residents, they will provide valuable insights to communities across the country,” said Sue Desmond-Hellmann, CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

In Dayton’s project, the city and Preschool Promise will work together to try to create more opportunities for parents to engage in activities that help build children’s brains and eventually enroll the kids in preschool, the city said.

“It’s encouraging that Preschool Promise’s great work is receiving national attention, and I think this initiative will only accelerate that,” said Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley.

Dayton hasn’t fared well when it comes to economic mobility.

In 2015, Marketplace reported that the Dayton metro area had one of the worst rates of economic mobility in the nation, with about 40 percent of children born poor in Dayton staying poor.

Preschool Promise, which is funded in large part by a portion of the city’s income tax, has helped 4-year-old children in Dayton gain access to high-quality education in the city. Whaley said the city is a national leader in best practices when it comes to pre-K and attendance.

But this new initiative hopefully will help children in the community with early learning in the first 1,000 days of their lives, from birth to the age of 3, Whaley said.

“For us, investing in the very youngest and their families is a great way to start getting at that issue (of economic mobility) for the long term,” Whaley said.

The pilot project will to try to reach families who have not signed up their children for preschool and reach children younger than 4.

One proposal is to create thinkscapes, which are intentionally designed, interactive play areas that strengthen brain development, said Charmaine Webster, director of marketing and outreach for Preschool Promise.

The project hopes to show people the benefits of early learning, perhaps by connecting families with young children using play dates or strategically placed gathering spaces, Webster said.

“Economist James Heckman will say that early learning is one of the best investments for economic longevity,” she said.

Dayton and the other nine cities were selected after a competitive process.

Some considerations included the local commitment to addressing economic mobility, the willingness to use data and other evidence for interventions and the ability to dedicate a team to the work, officials said.

The $12 million investment will help pay for technical support.

Dayton staff have already started working with a team of advisers from Results for America and the Behavioral Insights Team, which are partners in What Works Cities, an initiative through Bloomberg Philanthropies.

The money also will pay for support and assistance from the Raj Chetty’s Opportunity Insights Institute at Harvard University, which seeks to help cities better understand economic mobility in their own communities using data from the Opportunity Atlas.

Dayton will receive up to $150,000 to help pay for the intervention pilot program.

Other cities chosen for the program include Cincinnati; Detroit; Albuquerque, N.M.; Lansing, Mich.; New Orleans; Newark, N.J.; Racine, Wis.; Rochester, N.Y.; and Tulsa, Okla.

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