The Cincinnati promise?

More than a year ago, the Strive education partnership was formed with much fanfare in the Queen City to create a scholarship program much like the Kalamazoo Promise in Michigan. The Kalamazoo Promise is a four-year, full-ride scholarship to any public college in the state for all high school graduates who receive their elementary and secondary education in the city's public schools.

It takes big bucks to get such an ambitious program off the ground. In Cincinnati, the initial announcement has been followed mostly with wishful thinking and more publicity than money. In fact, the Cincinnati Enquirer recently reported that Strive is revising its goals and is wondering whether the organization will have enough money to pay for the scholarships.

Such difficulties also occurred in Kalamazoo. Janice Brown, superintendent of the Kalamazoo public schools, said that it took five years of conversations and a lot of faith to get donors on board. Eventually, a few anonymous donors jump-started the program's endowment that helps generate $12 million a year to fund the scholarships. Even more will be needed in Cincinnati, where the public schools serve about 35,000 students, more than three times the number in Kalamazoo. It could cost more than $36 million annually to pay for a "Cincinnati Promise." Raising that kind of cash doesn't happen overnight and it's no surprise Strive organizers are still working to determine if it is in fact doable.

In Kalamazoo, the promise has enticed 800 new families to move to the district, including a family from Russia. Resulting development, including a $10 million housing project, rising property values, and construction of two new schools, has helped to lift the economy in the near-term.

Kudos to Strive for starting the conversation around this innovative program in Cincinnati--just be careful not to make promises you cannot keep.

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