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Cuyahoga County may step up funding for Say Yes Cleveland, but what about next year?

Ryan Loew
Ideastream Public Media
Lamont Davis, a family support specialist at Bolton Elementary School in Cleveland, gives a high five to a student at the start of the school day on Aug. 30. 2022.

County Executive Chris Ronayne introduced a resolution to Cuyahoga County Council Tuesday that would provide an additional $2.1 million to Say Yes Cleveland’s family support specialist program, which lost most of its funding last year.

The new funding is one of the last pieces of financing the program needed to remain afloat for the remainder of the fiscal, which goes through June.

The Cleveland Metropolitan School District, the city of Cleveland, and Cuyahoga County Council have all contributed funds to help the family support specialist program survive. The program now only needs about $200,000 to close the gap and Say Yes is seeking private funding for that.

Say Yes Cleveland is an initiative to provide all students who graduate from the Cleveland Metropolitan School District with free college scholarships. As part of that initiative, the district also has placed a family support specialist in each CMSD school, along with partnering charter schools. Those specialists are social workers who help families find assistance with issues like hunger, drug addiction and homelessness.

The family support specialist program, which costs about $9.3 million per year, previously was funded mostly by Cuyahoga County and the school district. A major shortfall was created last yearafter the county severely cut its funding. The county said it was not getting reimbursed as promised with federal money from a program called Title IV-E, which is meant to keep young people out of the foster care system. The state had reportedly told the county that funding could not be used to fund the Say Yes program.

Jon Benedict, Say Yes Cleveland’s spokesperson, said in an interview this week that Say Yes and other local partners are working with the state to change the state’s definitions to allow the program to again utilize the Title IV-E funds. He contends that the support specialist program helps keep families together and children out of the foster-care system.

“The long-term solution to this problem is to ensure that the original funding model is enacted,” Benedict said.

He said that could take some time, however, leaving open the question of how the next fiscal year of the program will be funded.

“We are looking at firming up what I would say would be an interim or near-term funding solution that will ideally allow us a year or two of funded security that will let us really focus on the long-term solution, without having to come back to the county or other funders,” he said, He did not offer specifics about where that money would come from.

Benedict said $1.5 million of the $2.1 million being considered by the county would come from a grant from the state’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, while $600,000 would come from the county’s Health and Human Services fund. The funding still needs to be approved by County Council, and will next be considered by the council's education, environment and sustainability committee.

Conor Morris is the education reporter for Ideastream Public Media.