How have Cincinnati's public schools performed since the last tax levy increase?

Enrollment up, and so is poverty
Posted at 7:00 AM, Oct 20, 2016

CINCINNATI -- Cincinnati Public Schools is asking voters for new money for the first time since 2008 when a narrow majority approved a $51.5 million annual levy that was designed to last five years. 

The district stretched that funding level for eight years through budget cuts and belt-tightening, and it's asking for an additional $48 million a year for five years. That includes $15 million a year for greatly expanded preschool funding that will follow students to any private, charter or CPS preschool that is dubbed high-quality.

Related: Quality is key to lasting preschool benefits

The remaining $33 million will be invested in plans to improve K-12 schools.

Related: Cincinnati Public Schools' big ask: Where the money goes

In 2008, voters approved the new-money levy by a 51 to 49 percent margin in a district that had seen enrollment drop for 10 consecutive years, from 49,242 students in 1997-98 to 34,336. 

What did voters get for their money? We took a look at some vital statistics and laid them out in seven graphics.

Enrollment: After bottoming out at 32,335 students in 2011-12, enrollment has grown every year for five years and counting, bouncing back to an estimated 35,000 in the current school year. Neighborhood schools on the west side of the city are at capacity, as are some popular magnet schools and Walnut Hills High School. Note: CPS provided this enrollment data, which is based on the district's actual head count it takes each October, rather than Ohio's "full-time equivalent" formula.

Reading well by third grade: Educators across the political spectrum say students need to be reading at grade level by third grade to bolster their chance of academic success in later grades. Third graders who have learned to read can then read to learn. More than one out of every four third graders in CPS schools still does not read at grade level, but that's down from more than one out of every three in 2008. 

Diplomas in four years: CPS received an F on the state report card for its 72.3 percent graduation rate last spring, but that's up nearly 10 percent from 63.8 percent in 2009-10, which is the first year the district and the state used a four-year graduation rate. In 2007-08, the district and state counted the percentage of incoming seniors who graduated by spring. 

Highly Qualified Teachers: The number of teachers who the state doesn't consider to be highly qualified to teach the particular subjects they're teaching has more than doubled since the last levy increase. Barbara Mattei-Smith, CPS director of performance and accountability said the change is due largely to Ohio redefining the standard. 

In 2009, the state eliminated one-year teaching licenses for teachers in training and required all teachers to renew their licenses every five years. They grandfathered in veteran teachers to be exempt from the new five-year licensing requirement, and some of those teachers have opted not to pay for additional training that would maintain their official high-quality status. 

Mattei-Smith said the state is about to change the formula again. She said the smaller percentage of highly qualified teachers does not reflect a decrease in quality teaching.

"They all have been through licensing through state of Ohio. We don't have unlicensed teachers or any who lack background checks," she said.


Head start on college: Ohio has greatly expanded the options for high school students to earn free college credits at their schools or at nearby colleges or universities. Far more CPS students are earning college credits than they did in 2008, when statistics weren't tabulated and students had to go through a cumbersome application process to take courses on college campuses. 

Similarly, CPS students are taking far more Advanced Placement tests, which can lead to graduates testing out of college requirements.  

Wrap-around services: CPS has been trying to boost academic achievement by taking care of non-academic needs through eye and dental exams, mental health services and mentoring, and using Community Learning Centers that are paired with schools. The public-private endeavors have proven popular and have been added throughout the district. 

Changing faces: The district is serving a much lower income student body than it did in 2008, which poses additional challenges, especially with students moving from one school to another in the middle of the year, and sometimes moving in or out of the district. A rapidly growing but still modestly sized Hispanic minority has made the district more racially diverse.

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