(Plain Press, October 2017) The number of newly available high quality pre-kindergarten education slots available in Invest in Children’s Universal Pre-K (UPK) program more than doubled this year with the addition of 2,600 new slots. At a September 12 press conference at Horizon Education Centers- Market Square Pre-Kindergarten Site, Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish touted the expansion of the program, which will now serve 4,600 children. “It is my goal to give all our children a great start in life, with a high-quality pre-kindergarten education,” said Budish.
Budish noted that when children come to kindergarten not prepared, the cost to get them caught up is higher, and some never catch up.
Brad Sellers, Mayor of Warrensville Heights, said, “Can you make it if you don’t go to preschool? The answer is ‘yes’, but it will be harder,” said Sellers.
Invest in Children, a public/private partnership dedicated to the needs of young children from prenatal to kindergarten, in all, secured $22.8 million to fund the expansion of the Universal Pre-Kindergarten (UPK) program. Ten million of that amount, came from Cuyahoga County budget passed by Cuyahoga County Council, and $12.8 million came from a fundraising effort led by Budish and Paul Clark of PNC Bank, co-chair of the Invest in Children Universal Pre-Kindergarten Partnership Committee.
Paul Clark, PNC Bank Regional President, stressed the importance of 3 and 4 year olds getting the best start in life. He said an investment in these children is an investment in the citizens and the workforce of the future.
David Smith, Executive Director of Horizon Education Centers, said participation in the Invest in Children UPK program allows Horizon Education Centers to offer scholarships to children with family income from 200%-400% of the federal poverty level. He said families with income over 200% of the federal poverty line lose all state assistance.
Smith also noted that the state funding for pre-kindergarten is not enough to provide a high-quality program. He said funding from UPK allows pre-kindergarten programs to have an extra person in the classroom, offer high quality curriculum, and provide professional development opportunities for staff.
Costs for pre-kindergarten programs range from $7,000 to $9,000 per year. Tuition assistance generally covers up to 1/3 of the cost of tuition. Invest in Children says it has added some enhancements to the program this year and now can offer families with income under 200% of the federal poverty level tuition assistance equaling half the annual fee to attend preschool.
As part of the expansion, the Invest in Children UPK program added 37 new preschool sites. “The expansion of UPK is a critical step towards increasing kindergarten readiness in Cuyahoga County, and is especially important in Cleveland where we have set a goal of every 3- and 4-year old child having access to high-quality preschool,” said Eric Gordon, CEO of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District. “We know UPK produces great results for children and we are thrilled that eighteen new preschool sites were selected in Cleveland as part of the expansion.”
The City of Cleveland has its own program for preschool programs called Pre4CLE. An article, in the September Plain Press by M. Yesenia Summers titled “Executive Director Katie Kelly offers update on Pre4CLE program,” indicates Pre4CLE lists 5,389 high quality preschool seats.
Michelle Connavino, Operations & Outreach Specialist for Pre4CLE, says there is an overlap between the two programs (UPK and Pre4CLE) with many preschools being in both programs. Speaking of the overlap between the two programs, Connavino says, “In Cleveland, there are 2,799 UPK seats. That is the number of UPK seats available; we will not know until mid-late October how many of those seats are full.”
Connavino said there is an application process for programs to become part of UPK, and Pre4CLE is working to move more Cleveland preschool programs to become part of UPK.
Both programs have a way to go to reach their goal of having all 3 and 4 year olds participating in a high-quality pre-kindergarten program. When asked about the number of children the programs would have to serve to reach that goal, Budish said there are about 20,000 children in families in Cuyahoga County that most need help – children from families with income less than 300% of the federal poverty rate. With prekindergarten costs ranging up to $9,000 per child, it will take substantial increases in funding to reach the goal of Universal Pre-Kindergarten in Cuyahoga County.
Editor’s Note: Invest In Children Universal Pre-Kindergarten Sites on the West Side of Cleveland include: Gordon Square (The Centers), 5209 Detroit; Riverside Head Start, 17800 Parkmount; Garfield Elementary, 3800 W. 140; Horizon Child Development Center, 2285 Columbus Road; Tremont Montessori School, 2409 W. 10; St. Ignatius Head Start, 10205 Lorain Ave; Puritas Head Start, 14402 Puritas; Horizon Education Centers – Market Square, 2500 W. 25th; Merrick House Settlement, 1050 Starkweather; Clark Elementary School, 5550 Clark Ave; Willard Head Start, 2220 W. 95th; Horizon Education Centers – Old Brooklyn, 4142 Pearl Road; Salvation Army Ohio City Preschool, 4402 Clark Avenue; and William Cullen Bryant Elementary School, 3121 Oak Park Ave.