Catholic grade schools look to Cincinnati Preschool Promise levy to grow

CINCINNATI -- The preschool component of Cincinnati Public Schools' new levy is poised to be a boon for Catholic schools within the district that are increasingly embracing preschool as a way to sustain enrollment. 

Nowhere is that more evident than at Holy Family School in Price Hill.

"If Preschool Promise had not passed, we would have had to cut one of our two preschool classrooms for next year," Holy Family Principal Jenny O'Brien said.

Voters overwhelmingly approved a CPS school levy that will pump $33 million a year into public K-12 schools but also invest $15 million into public and private preschools.

The preschool funding will follow students who live in the school district to any public or private preschool that has a rating of three stars or higher on Ohio's Step Up to Quality scale.

United Way of Greater Cincinnati, which will oversee the program for non-CPS schools, plans to stretch funding to make preschool tuition free for children from families that earn 200 percent of the federal poverty level income or less.

Families that make more money will receive a subsidy on a sliding scale.

Preschools growing in Catholic parishes

All or nearly all of the 17 preschools that Catholic schools within the CPS district run are poised to earn top rankings if they haven't already, according to Sue Koverman, manager of Early Education & Resource Development with the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.

Sue Koverman

"Our schools are in a pretty good place to come in as four and five stars," she said, based on existing curriculum, teacher evaluations, professional development, quality facilities and other key benchmarks.

"Our folks are pretty committed to doing what they needed to do," Koverman said.

Reaching the neediest

At Holy Family, which earned a five-star rating, 96 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. Too few families would have had the means to pay tuition to cover two classrooms without the CPS subsidy.

Do you live in Cincinnati Public Schools District? It's bigger than Cincinnati.
CPS covers all of the city of Cincinnati, Amberley Village, Cheviot and Golf Manor; most of the Silverton; parts of Fairfax and Wyoming; and small parts of Anderson, Columbia, Delhi, Green, Springfield and Sycamore townships, according to the CPS website. You can find your school district by entering your home address on the Hamilton County Auditor's website.

O'Brien said the school has been struggling to balance the preschool budget since Ohio cut out state subsidies for 3-year-olds, going as far as watering down the paint children use.

She's thrilled that voters opted to fund expanded preschool throughout the district.

"Early childhood education is so important, especially the students (learning English). It's so important for them to get exposure to the English language before kindergarten," O'Brien said.

Holy Family has shifted from a predominantly white parish in previous decades to serving a much more diverse population. Among its 36 preschool children, half are Hispanic, 10 are African-American, six are white and two are multi-racial, she said.

Holy Family preschoolers check out mobile museum.

Sea change for Catholic schools

Koverman said preschools were not a big part of Cincinnati's thriving Catholic education tradition until the 1970s. Until then, most families waited until kindergarten to send their children to school.

But as fewer two-parent families were able to live off one income and more single mothers raised families with little or no paternal support, Catholic schools began expanding into preschool.

Within the archdiocese, 72 of 93 elementary schools now offer preschool, Koverman said. Within CPS district boundaries, 16 of 25 grade schools offer preschool.

St. Williams in Price Hill is considering offering preschool, she said, as part of a trend she hopes is accelerated by Preschool Promise funding.

"I don't want to say it's too easy, but in schools with available room we're in a school building that's already licensed with certified teachers. If preschoolers have siblings in the school, it just makes sense," she said.

The archdiocese has targeted neighborhoods in the urban core to serve low-income families who have few options for quality, affordable day care or preschool. Eight schools are subsidized by the archdiocese through its Catholic Inner-City Schools Education Fund (CISE), including some that have already earned five-star ratings.

But more affluent schools are also embracing preschool, including St. Cecelia in Oakley, which recently renovated its preschool classrooms. Koverman said the number of schools that offer preschool has grown to 72 from 55 when she started eight years ago.

"We've really had an opportunity to expand as schools are taking a look at how we can market ourselves a little bit differently," Koverman said.

Some schools have been hesitant to embrace preschools, she said, because of a tradition of taking care of toddlers at home.

"We still have some parishes that are not quite there yet," Koverman said. "They still offer part-time daycare that's what their clientele want. For some parishes, it's a brand new way of thinking about the way they're serving their families."

At Holy Family, 36 preschool children will continue enjoying two years of five-star preschool and being offered hot breakfast and lunch.

And teachers may finally be able to afford full-strength finger paint.

Holy Family preschool artists at work.

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