Ohio Gubernatorial Hopeful, Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley Pledges Universal Pre-K If Elected

"The state needs to make this a priority. If we don’t invest in our kids, I don’t really know what we’re investing in as a state.”

click to enlarge Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley and Ohio gubernatorial hopeful speaking in Columbus alongside U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH). - PHOTO: NICK EVANS/OCJ
Photo: Nick Evans/OCJ
Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley and Ohio gubernatorial hopeful speaking in Columbus alongside U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH).

Democrat Nan Whaley is promising to take the universal preschool plan approved by Dayton voters in 2016 statewide if she’s elected governor. The Dayton mayor made a campaign stop Friday in Columbus emphasizing the importance of early childhood education alongside U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH).

Universal pre-K is one of the provisions included in the “Build Back Better” measure getting lined up for a vote in Congress. That’s the legislation initially pitched as “human infrastructure” that Democrats plan to pass using a process known as budget reconciliation which allows them to avoid a Senate filibuster. Over months of negotiations the dollar figure has been whittled and the provisions have been pruned, but the legislation appears to be finalized.

Whaley says the best-case scenario for getting a plan like hers funded is Congress approving that bill, but she argues that’s just the first step.

“Look to do this we also need a Democratic governor,” Whaley said. “Because states are going to have the choice whether to accept this money to pay for universal high-quality preschool when it is passed in D.C., and as governor, I will accept this funding.”

Whaley argues state lawmakers are too willing to turn down federal support. She referenced her veterans plan and noted Ohio is turning down money to house vets despite a waiting list of more than 100.

But with a nod to how much that legislation has shifted, Whaley argued the state can move forward on universal pre-K even without federal support.

“Dayton is not a wealthy community. Dayton isn’t a community that has a lot compared to you know, other communities across the country,” Whaley said. “But we were able to invest in preschool because it is a really affordable way to really invest in our kids. The state needs to make this a priority. If we don’t invest in our kids, I don’t really know what we’re investing in as a state.”

Sen. Brown says Ohio won’t have long to wait to see if that funding is on its way.

“I think we will vote the next two weeks,” Brown said. “And I am hopeful, I think there’s agreement, entire agreement, including (Sens.) Manchin and Sinema on universal pre-K.”

Throughout negotiations, centrist Sens. Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) and Krysten Sinema (D-Arizona), have played an outsized role in determining the scope of the legislation. But Brown notes with West Virginia already offering universal preschool, it wasn’t difficult for Manchin to get on board with that policy.

Dayton’s universal pre-K provisions passed as part of a city income tax levy in 2016, making preschool affordable for every 4-year-old in the city. And Whaley’s Democratic opponent in the race has a similar resume. In the same election, Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley oversaw a public school levy that made preschool affordable for 3 and 4-year-olds in the city.

Cranley's gubernatorial campaign largely is framed around Cincinnati's population and civic "comeback," as he calls it, compared to Ohio's downswing as a whole in recent decades. According to the video and his campaign website, Cranley is running on a moderate platform around middle-class job creation, small-business growth, human rights, and education and infrastructure improvements, among other issues.

Key among his issues is criminal justice reform, which includes addressing wrongful convictions and finding solutions to poverty and mental illness rather than incarcerating individuals. A graduate of Harvard Law School, Cranley co-founded the Ohio Innocence Project in 2002 at the University of Cincinnati, which uses DNA to prove the innocence of wrongfully convicted individuals.

The platform also includes legalizing recreational marijuana to fill Ohio's tax coffers. Cranley long has been an advocate for weed and recently tweeted that he supported state and national Democrats' focus on making cannabis a priority.

Whaley and Cranley share many of the platform issues, which makes some Democrats nervous about an expensive primary battle. Both Cranley and Whaley say they are friends.

A version of this story was originally published by the Ohio Capital Journal and republished here with permission.

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