Hey, parents: Here's what you need to know right now about Cincinnati's new preschool program

CINCINNATI -- Parents who live in the Cincinnati Public Schools district and thought they couldn't afford to send their 3- and 4-year-olds to a good preschool are suddenly faced with some very good choices.

Preschool will be free for families who make twice the federal poverty level or less thanks to the passage of the $48 million CPS levy. For a family of three, that's an income of $40,320 or less, according to federal guidelines.

Families who make 201-300 percent of the poverty level will get as much as half off tuition. For a family of three, that's an income of $40,321 to $60,480.

Pick your preschool

Families will be able to apply to any CPS, private, parochial or charter preschool that participates in the program and has earned a state rating of three to five stars.

So what do parents need to know right now?

Preschool works

Greg Landsman, strategic advisor to the Cincinnati Preschool Promise, said the first thing is knowing that sending a toddler to a high-quality preschool program gives them a leg up on future academic success.

Greg Landsman

"Quality preschool works," he said.

Numerous studies show that children who go to good preschools enter kindergarten ready to learn. That snowball effect continues with a higher percentage of those eager kindergarteners reading at grade level in third grade. Those readers have a much higher chance of graduating from high school, going to college and avoiding pitfalls like drug use, crime and falling into bad health habits.

CPS Superintendent Mary Ronan seconded that message.

Cincinnati Public Schools Superintendent Mary Ronan

"Preschool is incredibly valuable. Our kindergarten teachers say on the first day they can immediately spot the kids who went to preschool, not just for their knowledge but for their social skills," she said.

District is bigger than just Cincinnati

Children throughout the district, regardless of whether they attend CPS schools, are eligible for the preschool subsidy. And the district is a good deal bigger than the city of Cincinnati. The 91-square-mile district also includes all of Amberley Village, Cheviot and Golf Manor; most of Silverton; parts of Fairfax and Wyoming; and small parts of Anderson, Columbia, Delhi, Green, Springfield and Sycamore townships.

Parents can use this tool to see whether they're in the CPS school district.

Start shopping

Similar to a voucher, preschool funding will follow preschoolers to whatever participating school their parents choose.

Landsman said parents should contact one or more of the following to check on availability: CPS, 4C for Children, Community Action Agency or any neighborhood preschool that appeals to them.

"The big thing is parents have choices," Ronan said. "They can choose schools that best suit their needs."

Parents who may be overwhelmed by the choices can seek advice from a CPS Preschool Family Coordinator, she said. "I do think we have to do community outreach in the next months. We certainly are willing to deploy preschool coordinators."

More information coming soon

Levy funding will start flowing in January, and CPS and its partners are setting up a 15-member governing board, with CPS, United Way of Greater Cincinnati and Cincinnati Preschool Promise appointing five members each.

That board will set up a website, a phone number and an office that will be staffed "with very kind and helpful people," Landsman said.

Parents can check for updates here.

The board will also determine, as quickly as they can, exactly how much money will be spent on children from families making 201-300 percent of the federal poverty wage.

The board has to decide how much more money will be awarded for going to a four-star or five-star school and how much money will be invested into programs like teacher professional development to boost the number of high-quality seats.

That's a big priority since a report done by Rand Corp. determined that the district has nearly 4,000 fewer high-quality seats than demand if every 3- and 4-year-old attended.

Open arms

Landsman emphasized how excited those the district's citizens are for parents to participate. He pointed to the resounding levy victory, with nearly 62 percent of ballots cast in support of the levy -- the highest margin of victory since 1952.

"Parents should know that their city cares about them and their children, and nearly 90,000 voters wanted us to know that last night," he said.

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