Cuyahoga County

 Property Tax

In 2007, Invest in Children decided to build a Universal Prekindergarten program (UPK) on the foundation of quality that had been established. UPK began by serving 1000 children in existing sites across the county using a mixed delivery system of public preschools, private community centers, Head Start programs and family child care homes. The program was able to expand to the current 4600 slots in 2017 and further enhance its programmatic approach in family engagement and serving children with special needs. 


greater chance of passing the Third Grade Reading Assessment for children that attended UPK

slots to enhance family engagement and serve special needs children


Cost Prediction in Mixed Delivery System

A core principle of Cuyahoga County’s UPK program was to build upon the existing mixed-delivery system and provide gap funding to reach the “true cost” of meeting the standards set by UPK. While this approach of providing funding through a “last dollar in” approach is cost effective and customized to program need, it presents challenges. For example, calculating the real funding gap for programs is difficult as program revenues change from year to year. In addition, the approach makes it difficult to provide a single “per seat cost” as funding varies among programs based on their other revenue sources. It is therefore more difficult to predict costs of taking the program to scale. Thus, the program uses an average cost when making these calculations. 

Getting to Action

1999County establishes Invest in Children, a public/private partnership focused on providing a continuum of services from prenatal to kindergarten to young children and families.
2007Invest in Children decides to build a high-quality Universal Prekindergarten program (UPK). UPK began by serving 1000 children in existing sites using a mixed delivery system.
2013Voters approve a 3.9-mill tax for five years to support children and adult health and human services programs.
2016Voters approve a two-year renewal of the 3.9-mill health and human services tax. The newly elected County Executive commits $10 million to expand the Universal Prekindergarten (UPK) program (in addition to the $4.7 million already in the annual budget). The private sector is challenged to match those dollars. The private fundraising campaign exceeded its goal and raised over $12 million. These private dollars are in a donor-advised fund at the Cleveland Foundation.
2017The UPK program expands to the current 4600 slots and further enhances family engagement and serving special needs children. The combined budget of $22.5 million will allow the program to operate for three school years. A sustainability strategy to maintain the expansion is currently being developed.


A rigorous independent evaluation of the program is underway by Case Western Reserve University and the results thus far indicate that UPK, when compared with a similar high-quality program, produces significantly greater readiness for kindergarten. The effect is most pronounced when children attend for eighteen months or more of UPK. This holds true even when a wide range of demographic variables are held constant, isolating the impact of UPK. Dr. Rebekah Dorman, Director of Invest in Children states, “We are truly gratified that the Case Western Reserve evaluation demonstrates that UPK is truly making a difference for children in preparing them to be ready to succeed in school. The results show that the investment in UPK is producing significant returns through the life trajectories we are changing. We now must work together as a community to sustain and expand it. We look forward to the day when the program can become truly universal and serve all children in the county.”

    Keys to Success

    Ensure that you have an evaluation plan and data collection procedures in place before you start the program to capture both outcome and process evaluation

    Find high profile champions in the private sector

    Continue to enhance the model—even a good program can get better

    Listen to providers but also hold them accountable

    Build your program so that it is scalable

    Learn More

    For more information about Cuyahoga County’s program please see: Investing in High Quality Preschool: Lessons from An Urban Setting in a special issue of Early Years: An International Research-Contemporary and Critical Perspectives on ECE in the United States. Volume 37, Number 1, March 2017. Contact Cuyahoga County’s Invest in Children Office of Early Childhood Staff: