CINCINNATI -- Cincinnati voters resoundingly said yes to a school levy that will usher in a new era of near-universal preschool.
The $48 million Cincinnati Public Schools levy won with 62 percent of the vote. That marks the largest winning margin since 1952.
"Everything fell into place for this campaign," said Brewster Rhoads, a campaign leader. "You had the business community united around this, the CPS community, complemented by the religious community that saw this as a way of acting on their faith in the real world."
"That's all combined with the social and human services community epitomized by the United Way's commitment," he said.
United Way of Greater Cincinnati was deputized by CPS to oversee the preschool expansion and the $15 million a year that will be dedicated to it. That money will follow students to any CPS preschool or participating parochial, private or charter preschool that earns three stars or more on the state's quality scale.
Stephanie Byrd, executive director of United Way's Success By 6 early childhood learning program, said her organization will get to work forming a 15-member oversight board. It will be charged with helping new preschools open and existing preschools add more high-quality seats.
"We really have to hit the ground running," she said.
CPS, Cincinnati Preschool Promise and United Way will appoint five board members each.
An extensive study of Cincinnati's preschool landscape indicated that the district would need to create nearly 4,000 more high-quality slots if every 3- and 4-year-old enrolled.
Superintendent Mary Ronan said the district will increase the number of preschool seats it offers next fall beyond the 1,600 it already has. The number will be determined by multiple factors, including how many new high-quality seats are created by private, parochial and charter schools.
The levy will generate an additional $48 million a year for five years, costing the owner of a $100,000 home an additional $277.
The program is designed to make preschool free for children from families who make twice the federal poverty wage or less, when the money is combined with other resources like Head Start and state preschool aid.
Families with more income will receive a subsidy on a sliding scale, with higher subsidies going to the highest-rated preschools, as ranked by the state.
The other $33 million will go toward filling a big budget deficit in CPS after making do with the same level of local tax funding since 2008.
It will also help CPS continue to create specializations at more neighborhood schools as part of an effort to bolster results at those schools.
Erica Copeland-Dansby, president of the CPS school board, said the district plans to create new specializations at eight to 10 schools for the 2017-18 school year.
"My hope is that we are going to get to work on this right away," Copeland-Dansby said. "It will take us a little bit of time to see the results, but we do know that when you can custom fit a program that makes a school a lot stronger."
Money will also go toward expanding the My Tomorrow program to bring more computers into classrooms. Students in grades 7 to 12 already have laptops to use at school. CPS plans to add more laptops and tablet computers for younger students.
Funds will also be used to enhance college- and career-readiness efforts, including adding counselors and offering more AP and college-credit courses.
Supporters of the district were ebullient at a watch party at United Way's Cincinnati headquarters on Reading Road.
"As a nation, we seem very divided," Ronan said. "But here in Cincinnati, everyone came together, and they showed that everybody cares about children," Ronan said.