It's official: Cincinnati Public Schools asks voters for levy that pays for preschool, improved K-12

It's official: Cincinnati Public Schools asks voters for levy that pays for preschool, improved K-12
Posted at 2:51 PM, Aug 02, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-02 15:16:51-04

CINCINNATI – Backed by a standing ovation from community leaders in the audience, Cincinnati Public Schools board members voted Tuesday morning to officially ask voters to pass a new $48 million levy.

If approved in November, the five-year levy will cost the owner of a $100,000 home an additional $277.55 a year, a 19.5 percent increase over the current levy.

For that heavy ask, the district and a wide array of business, religious and community allies are promising better K-12 neighborhood schools and, for the first time, two years of near-universal preschool at either CPS schools or private preschools.

"We are now reaching for the epitome of excellence and working with the city to improve the economic development picture," Board Vice President Melanie Bates said. "If we can keep people in this city and educate our children, we're going to be one of the most important cities in the country."

Forces Joined

The district agreed to devote $15 million of the levy annually to funding preschool. In addition to placing the levy on the ballot, the district approved a detailed plan to hire an outside organization to oversee preschool funding.

The trusted entity, in turn, will create a new nonprofit organization that will handle the daily operations of reimbursing preschool operators and a host of other responsibilities like making sure preschools' lesson plans align with Ohio's K-12 curriculum.

The preschool expansion has been championed for several years by Cincinnati Preschool Promise and will be funded through a $48 million CPS tax levy if voters approve it in the fall. To make sure both have strong oversight of the money, a 15-member board of trustees will govern the new nonprofit group.

CPS, Preschool Promise and the trusted entity will each select five board members.

The remaining $33 million of new money annually will be dedicated to implementing the district's plans to add more technology to classrooms – tablet computers for primary students, laptops for older students – implement more career-readiness programs and strengthen neighborhood schools.

Consequences of Failure

If the levy fails, the preschool expansion would not occur and the district would have to plug a projected $60 million deficit, likely through program and service cuts, according to spokeswoman Janet Walsh.

Ozie Davis III, a co-chairman of the Cincinnati Preschool Promise campaign and veteran of many community and political campaigns, is optimistic voters will see the value in the levy.

If voters think high taxes are a burden, the cost of mediocre educations will be even higher, he said.

"Without the investment now, we really pay in the end," he said.

Davis said the success of the levy may come down to how well politicians running for county office who support the levy energize their voters.

"I think county races should generate opportunity for our levy. Those county folks have to dominate their races," he said.

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