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Cuyahoga County executive candidates discuss their education policies

Ryan Loew
Ideastream Public Media
The Say Yes Program Cleveland program provides college scholarships to Cleveland Metropolitan School District students who attend four years of high school and live in the district.

Education hasn’t been widely discussed during recent candidate forums for Cuyahoga County Executive candidates. Still, the county plays a significant role in funding and running a number of programs related to education, workforce development and pre-kindergarten learning.

In recent interviews, Cuyahoga County Executive candidate Chris Ronayne, a Democrat, said there’s a larger role for the county to play, especially in connecting separate education initiatives with county services. Candidate Lee Weingart, a Republican, suggested the county has a more limited role to play, but still shared ideas for how current programs can be changed.

Ronayne and Weingart said in separate interviews that they wanted to reverse funding cuts enacted by Cuyahoga County Council that affected Say Yes Cleveland’s family support specialist program. That would mean restoring funding to $9.25 million after council cut it to about $4.9 million. County County Council members justified the cut by saying federal reimbursements didn't materialize as expected. Weingart said cutting the funds was unfair.

"You can't walk back from what you've committed to just because you got bad advice from one of your senior leaders in Health and Human Services," he said.

Ronayne said education is fundamental to “everything” the county does.

“I want to make sure that our kids are reading with comprehension by the third grade. I want to make sure that our young adults and high school students are work-ready by the time they reach their senior year in high school,” he said.

One of the big things the county can do, Ronayne said, is to help pull together the various nonprofits working on education-related issues in the county.

Additionally, the county needs to increase support for its universal pre-kindergarten program, Ronayne said.

“When you see that classes that are waiting for kids can't open because we've got workforce shortages, we're going to help bridge that gap,” he said.

Finally, Ronayne said he wanted to broaden afterschool and summer learning opportunities for young children, modeled partially after a program started while he was at University Circle called “Circle Scholars.

Weingart said while Cuyahoga County government doesn't have the same responsibility as Cleveland over education programming, the county still has a role to play.

He said he wanted to continue the county’s pre-kindergarten programming and its scholarship program through the College Now initiative.

He would seek to revamp the scholarship program, though, to require students who receive a county scholarship to attend Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C) for their first two years, then another Cuyahoga County college to for a bachelor's degree.

“That keeps all the money here locally, which I think is very important, but it also keeps the students local too,” Weingart said.

Increasing the number of students staying local will help the county deal with declining population, he added.

Both Weingart and Ronayne said it’s important to keep and expand upon the county’s workforce development programs, as well.

Sunny Simon, chair of Cuyahoga County Council’s education, environment and sustainability committee, said it’s important for the next county executive, whoever it is, to keep supporting the programs currently in place. That includes everything from the College Now program to the Education Assistance Program that helps students pay to finish out their degree or training for a job in a high-demand field.

Conor Morris is the education reporter for Ideastream Public Media.