Cincinnati, OH, City Council Member Greg Landsman is a former public schoolteacher and a staunch advocate for families in southwest Ohio. Prior to joining the city council, Landsman served as the executive director of Cincinnati’s Strive Partnership where he spearheaded an effort to create a voter-approved children’s fund that provides $15 million per year to support preschool services for the city’s 3- and 4-year-olds. This “first-in-the-nation” investment passed in 2016 with the largest margin of victory in the history of school levies in Cincinnati and voters reauthorized the fund in 2020. Since its first authorization in 2016, Cincinnati Preschool Promise has helped 200 community-based preschool providers improve their program quality ratings and has provided 3,000 families with preschool tuition assistance.

We spoke with Council Member Landsman about his previous work with Cincinnati Preschool Promise and his career advocating for working families. You can watch the full video interview and read an edited version of our conversation below.



Children’s Funding Project: Greg, I just would love for you to start by sharing what is Cincinnati Preschool Promise.

Landsman: So, Preschool Promise is a program that’s now up and running. It was a ballot measure that passed in 2016. It provides two years of quality preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds in the city of Cincinnati, becoming one of the first cities in the country to do that. And it [Preschool Promise] does a couple of things: [It] provides tuition assistance to help families who couldn’t otherwise afford high-quality preschool. So, whatever they can pay, the Preschool Promise comes in and pays the rest; and then it helps with quality improvement through grants that go directly to providers to help them with all things that are important to get to quality.

Ohio has a state quality rating system, and you want to get the highest level of quality, which is five stars. A lot of times that means being able to buy a better curriculum and being able to have the right furniture in your classroom, the right toys, and other things that kids are going to interact with.

And then the third piece is that [Preschool Promise] helps with wage assistance to improve the wages of early childhood educators because that happens to be the hardest thing that a lot of providers are dealing with—even before the pandemic—post-pandemic it’s even worse. It is about getting qualified early childhood educators in the classrooms.

Those three things—tuition assistance, quality improvement, and grants for wages—all help build a preschool system where every kid has access to a high-quality preschool.

Children’s Funding Project: I always love hearing you talk about Preschool Promise because there’s a way that you animate the work and make it exciting. I also imagine that some of the goals, if not all of the goals of Preschool Promise, could have been achieved through philanthropic channels. Why was it important to make it a voter-approved children’s fund—something that’s on the ballot versus other routes?

Landsman: Yeah, it’s a great question. In Cincinnati, we had been investing a lot of private philanthropic dollars. United Way raised money for Preschool Promise, and it made a big difference in terms of proving locally that this worked. It wasn’t just that we were investing in preschool, and providers to help parents who otherwise couldn’t afford it, to afford quality preschool. We were only helping a fraction of the families who need help.

Almost every family needs help. It is very expensive. We also invested in a data system to prove that if a kid has two years of quality preschool, they show up to school prepared and there’s an assessment. Doing well on that readiness assessment makes a big difference in terms of whether or not that child is going to do well as a student in kindergarten, first grade, and second grade. These are the kids that are reading by the end of third grade.

And so that early data showed that if you’re ready for kindergarten, 85% of those kids were reading successfully by the end of third grade versus 42% who weren’t ready. It is such a huge moment of truth: school readiness. The philanthropic dollars we raised helped us secure long-term sustainable public funding. Voters said, “We want this! We want our tax dollars to go to children.”

I remember the night of the election I was working in a polling location, and right toward the end I was like, “Is this going to pass?” I was starting to get nervous. So much was riding on this ballot measure, and this woman came up, and she said, “You know, I’m a very conservative voter. I almost never vote for these levies, but I like when my tax dollars go to children.”

It ended up passing with 63% of the vote, one of, I think, the largest margin of victories in any local school levy. I think when given the choice voters will say, “No, no, if this is going to help children and make a big difference then yeah, I’m all for it.”

And so now, every year, $15 million get invested in preschool, and into the lives of these children. It’s thousands and thousands of dollars of support for families every year.

Children’s Funding Project: It’s powerful, and it was a great campaign. So great! The measure was on the ballot in November of 2016. I moved to Cincinnati in July of 2015, so I had been here just over a year, and I remember the diversity of people I saw on the campaign. Diversity in age, geography, racial demographics, east side, west side. It was clear that it was intentional. Talk to me about the intentionality around the diversity of folks working on this initiative, and why that was important.

Landsman: I think the answer is that the city is very diverse. I mean we’re ostensibly half white and half Black. We do have a growing Hispanic community, so anything that we do should represent the diversity of the city period. Right? It’s also beneficial to something if there’s full ownership, if everyone feels like hey, this is something that I am a part of, I can see myself in it, and that I help build it.

We went out and built leadership teams and committees that had the diversity of our city, and we were intentional about having them push and prod on the plan so it wasn’t just like hey, sign up if you believe in preschool. We all believe in preschool so let’s all do this together. It was like, okay here is the plan as it stands today. We want you to weigh in, and we want it to work for you and your family and your community, and so it just kept getting better and better. Some folks got frustrated and felt that this was not what we envisioned, but in the end, I think all the updates and improvements that were made to the plan made it much better.

There’s also obviously a political benefit to having a big coalition—thousands and thousands of people went to the ballot together. It wasn’t just me or a small group of people. It was a lot of folks, hundreds of organizations, and the plan itself was built by all these incredible people, particularly parents and preschool providers and that made it better and worthy of someone’s vote.

Children’s Funding Project: I want to pivot and discuss the Cincinnati Children and Families Cabinet. Tell me about the cabinet and how it works with Preschool Promise. [Council Member Landsman initiated the ordinance to create the cabinet in 2021 to provide guidance on health and safety issues affecting children.]

Landsman: One of the things that happened during the Preschool Promise exploratory phase was a few of us went out to Denver, including our mutual friend Dr. Vanessa White. We were there on a leadership experience exchange, and I had the opportunity to meet then Gov. [John] Hickenlooper. He said that the most important thing he did when he was mayor of Denver was the preschool deal. I remember being like, wow! He’s known for doing a ton as mayor, and I was pretty struck by that. We had this conversation with him, and he gave me some advice. He said to make sure you build this with the community so that when you go to the ballot, it’s not just you, it’s the whole community.

We also learned about this other effort that they were doing which was a children and families’ cabinet. They had an entire organization within the city government focused on doing a whole host of things to make life infinitely better for children and families, particularly those most marginalized.

When I was first elected to city council and Dr. Vanessa White joined me as my chief of staff, one of the first things we did was stand up an office for the Children and Families Cabinet in Cincinnati. The cabinet includes folks from all different sectors, from the school district, the housing authority, and the hospitals, particularly Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.

Children’s Funding Project: Well listen, Greg, I appreciate you taking the time to chat with me. The purpose of this series is to show various examples of voter-approved children’s funds that have been successful. As you know, no two funds are the same. Communities are different, and to get an insight into the process and how different funds work is valuable.

To learn more, visit our website at 

Reginald Harris is a senior fellow at Children’s Funding Project.