Cuyahoga County wins $374,000 grant for universal pre-kindergarten (Cleveland.com)

By Laura Johnston

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Cuyahoga County has received a $374,000 federal grant to study its universal prekindergarten program.

The grant will pay for a 30-month deep dive into data about children in its current preschool programs, said the county's Office of Early Childhood Director Rebekah Dorman. At the end, the county will have a road map of how to build a Pay for Success program.

What's Pay for Success?

The county is trying that method to raise money to help homeless families.

Under the philosophy, the government agrees to pay for measurable outcomes, but does not pay for preschool programs that don't meet those goals.

The county wants students in its universal prekindergarten program to attain:

  • kindergarten readiness
  • reading and math achievement
  • improved social and emotional skills

The county raised $12 million from private and philanthropic donations for preschool. The money, placed in the Cleveland Foundation's new Early Childhood Education Fund, will allow the county to more than double the number of children included in the program, from 2,000 to 4,000, beginning in 2017.

For a year, cleveland.com, 90.3 WCPN, WVIZ/PBS ideastream, and The Plain Dealer have explored the science, best practices and economics of early childhood education as part of Cleveland Connects: The First 2,000 Days, sponsored by PNC Bank.

"This federal award will enable us to achieve our goal of sustainable long-term funding while saving the taxpayers money," county Executive Armond Budish said in a statement.

The county hopes to the Pay for Success model will be used to expand and improve the quality of preschool programs for disadvantaged preschoolers. 

"This federal grant is a big vote of confidence in our Universal Pre-kindergarten program and the outcomes we have achieved for children at risk," Dorman said. "With this funding we hope to create a pathway to bringing the program to scale."