Grandview School Superintendent Dr. Kenny Rodrequez explains why the public school districts located wholly or partly in Kansas City oppose the specific measure on the April 2 ballot to approve a new city sales tax for pre-kindergarten instruction even though they strongly support providing such instruction and recognize its value at the March 11 South Kansas City Alliance forum on the issue. Kansas City Mayor Sly James was one of the speakers in favor of the Measure. Photo by Velda Cook.

Voters to Decide on Outgoing Mayor’s Proposed Pre-K Tax Increase

By Samuel Ast

Last August, Mayor Sly James announced his intention to raise Kansas City’s sales tax in order to fund a proposal designed to increase access to early childhood education in Kansas City. Seven months later, after it was decided that voters should have the opportunity to endorse the tax measure, residents now find themselves just weeks away from the opportunity to do so.

In addition to casting votes for a new mayor and a new city council, on April 2 voters will also have to mark either ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on their ballots in response to the Pre-K Economic Development Sales Tax question. While the question is written a bit confusingly on the ballot, the decision is actually quite simple.

If a simple majority of Kansas Citians vote ‘yes’ on the initiative, they would be signalling their approval of a sales tax increase of ⅜ of a cent for 10 years to fund Pre-K instruction for four and five year olds the year before they enter kindergarten, improvements to early childhood centers and investments in the city’s early childhood education workforce.

While the cost of consumer purchases would not be impacted all that much, the amount of new revenue the city would see as a result is quite dramatic. It is projected that the city would bring in an additional $30 million annually, post-implementation.

Pre-kindergarten programs in the city rely on a mix of state and federal funds. The current sales tax makes up about a quarter of the city’s total tax-supported budget.

Outlines of the sales tax increase on the April 2 ballot illustrate that 50 percent of the proceeds will go towards tuition assistance for families, 20 percent will be spent on capital improvements like building repairs, another 20 percent will be spent for educator training–along with curriculum updates–with the remaining 10 percent allocated for administration, evaluation and marketing of the program.

Since making the decision to push for the ⅜ of a cent increase on the sales tax levy public last year, the mayor was met with a flurry of dissent from local superintendents like Dan Clemens from the North Kansas City School District and Mark Bedell from Kansas City Public Schools. In fact, the opposition was so fierce that the Kansas City Public Schools Board was in unanimous opposition to the proposed plan. Their concerns centered largely around doubts that local public school officials would have much control or oversight over the allocation of new funds to education providers, and their opposition to  private and parochial schools benefiting from the plan.

The Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce strongly supports the proposed tax.

Opponents of the measure include Freedom, Inc., Grandview School District, Kansas City, Mo., Branch of the NAACP,  Kansas City Federation of Teachers, Kansas City Public Schools, League of Women Voters, Metro Organization for Racial and Economic Equity, Southland Progress, Urban League of Greater Kansas City and Urban Summit.

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