Schools, education groups hope to have more say in KC mayor’s pre-K education plan

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Kansas City mom Elizabeth Lewis has seen first-hand the benefits of early education.

“I have a 5-year-old that's been in pre-K for three years and another 3-year-old that's starting on Monday, and I think it's amazing. They've learned so much, not just socially, which I think is the most important, but just the practicality of life and meeting friends,” Lewis said.

She's excited about a recent proposal that would provide free pre-K education for all Kansas City children starting at the age of 4.

“I think that's what our tax money should be going to is our future, our children, and I think that should be the number one priority,” Lewis said.

Kansas City Mayor Sly James said an added sales tax in Kansas City would generate $30 million each year to make quality, affordable pre-Kindergarten learning accessible to everyone.

“Studies show that high quality early childhood education increases a child's chances of reaching high school by 31 percent, college by 80 percent and increasing employment by 23 percent,” James said.

On Friday, he announced that measure, originally set for the November ballot, has been put on hold.

“We`re going to step back. We`re going to invite all the people who want to have more input and have conversations. We`re going to invite them to have those conversations,” James said.

“We`re going to let the April voters hear this ballot issue and vote on it,” he explained.

More time is exactly what some say is needed.

Gaylen Carruth is the executive director of Cooperating School Districts of Greater Kansas City. It`s an educational service agency that represents more than 30 school districts. Fifteen are in Kansas City and will be impacted by this plan.

Superintendents have three main concerns with the current plan.

“The sales tax is a regressive tax and it disproportionately falls on poor people,” Carruth said.

“Secondly, there's a concept called 'money follows the child', and that's called a voucher. And vouchers that would go to private and parochial schools is not something that this entity the cooperating school district has ever supported. It`s public money for public schools,” she explained.

“Another area was the governance model. We had some issues with the governance model,” she added.

Carruth said another thing that should be taken into consideration is the needs of each of the school districts who will be involved in this plan.

“I work primarily with the superintendents of the 31 school districts, and like I said 15 of them are within the Kansas City city limits. You can’t just take one model and plop it down on all 15 of the districts because the 15 districts are very different, so that’s been another concern that we’ve had,” Carruth said.

She looks forward to future meetings with city officials.

“I'm hopeful that we can engage in the planning process and have the people that didn't feel like they were included to be included and look at moving forward with something that we can all agree to,” Carruth said.