Kansas City mayor pushing for preschool for all kids in the city

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- It's a major push by the mayor of Kansas City.  Preschool for all kids in the city. He hit the campaign trail again on Sunday.

It's hard to find someone who says educating kids is bad. But what you do find are people critical of the city pushing a tax to push a specific education plan.

Kids often play at St. Marks United Inner City Child Care Center, but not usually on Sundays. This one was an exception, because Kansas City's Mayor Sly James came by to promote his Pre-K plan.

"My oldest actually graduated form early childhood education," Bria Anderson said.

She's a mother of two, a 5-year-old and 2-year-old. Her oldest already graduated from her Pre-K education, and her youngest, she hopes will be able to do the same. Affordability is a key factor for Anderson, but she's trying.

When asked why it was so important to her, Anderson said, "I think in general this is the key to making a difference in our communities right now."

That's how the mayor markets it. He quotes the research showing kids who have a pre-kindergarten education are better prepared for later grades and life.

"It ultimately helps us with building our city," Mayor Sly James said, "in terms of workforce, and also in terms of citizenship."

But a consortium of 32 metro school districts disagree. Sly James has several strongly worded statements on that.

"But this isn't about kids with some of these folks. It's about turf, it's about control, it's about money, and it's not about doing the right thing for kids. Our role is to do the best thing in the world that we can do for the kids of this city and ultimately for this city as a whole."

He directed these comments at the group:

"They do not have the ability to do what we are trying to do, which is make sure that Pre-K is available to all kids, not just kids under their jurisdiction. But all kids in the entire city, that's my responsibility. Their responsibility is to cover their own turf, their own school district and do their own thing. Well, we cannot do that anymore. What we have now is a system that's not working adequately. Giving them the money isn't going to make it work any more adequately. In fact, it may slow it down entirely.

"We have a responsibility to every child in this city, not just the ones going to various school districts, to make sure they have access to high quality Pre-K. They have no plan aside from raise property tax, which can't be dedicated to Pre-K unless everybody agrees, and that includes the charter (schools) and they have not agreed. So there's no plan that they have to accommodate to accomplish what we're trying to accomplish. If they come up with a better plan that accomplishes the things of making this available, accessible, and affordable. To every family who has a four year old in this city - fine, I'm happy with that. But up to this point, they have no plan. And the only time they talk about this is when we presented our plan. So I don't think much of their objections, to be quite honest, because objections don't solve the problem - they just protect their turf, protect their budgets, and they do not address the needs of the kids of this city as a whole."

"The problem is that we can find a million reasons not to do something if we don't want to but when we know that this is in the best interest of the kids, and the superintendents will tell you that they know that it is. When we know that these things are good for kids, and we can solve any of those adult problems if we want to sit down and do it," James said.

Dr. Gayden Carruth, the executive director of Cooperating School Districts of Greater Kansas City sent the following statement to FOX4:

"Improving and expanding early childhood education is vitally important to Cooperating School Districts of Greater Kansas City. Our 32 member districts strongly support increased services for our youngest learners and appreciate being able to review the pre-kindergarten tax plan created by the Kansas City mayor’s office."

"In addition, our organization is thankful for the opportunity to work with the petitioners and Mayor Sly James to seek better understanding and reasonable compromise. Although the mayor’s office has collaborated on some issues, we remain concerned about several unresolved items. For the sake of our more than 177,000 students, we believe our districts should have been involved with the mayor’s team in the plan’s original design."

"All our districts provide pre-kindergarten programs and share a commitment to young children. With this commitment in mind, we are sharing our three main concerns with the mayor’s plan: governance, constitutionality and revenue -- while also providing solutions."

"Governance. The current plan essentially removes locally elected boards of education from any significant governance role. All but two of our 14 districts involved in the proposal educate students from multiple municipalities other than Kansas City. Locally elected school boards are charged by state statute with making “rules and regulations for the organization, grading and government in the school district.” These statutes do not assign responsibilities for the districts’ governance to a tax board or other entity -- as would be the case in the mayor’s plan."

"Constitutionality. The current tax proposal would provide funding for private sectarian and parochial schools in direct conflict with Missouri Constitution Article IX, which specifically restricts public funding for any “institution of learning controlled by any religious creed, church or sectarian denomination.”

"Revenue. In addition to the issue of public funding being diverted to private schools via vouchers, we are concerned about the actual amount of revenue going to students as well as the method of taxation. According to the mayor’s plan, only 25 to 30 percent of the approximately $30 million in sales-tax revenue will be spent for direct services to children during the first three years. We also agree with other organizations expressing concerns about the regressive nature of a sales tax, which disproportionately impacts those least able to pay."

These issues not only face the district’s superintendents attending the meetings with the mayor and the petitioners, they are vitally important to the families of the 32 districts represented by our organization. Our districts have worked diligently toward a reasonable compromise but do not believe the current plan is right for our districts and, more importantly, our children.

Our recommendation to Mayor James is that all parties come together to support individual local school districts’ property-tax initiatives, if the districts choose this method of revenue. In addition, we support the mayor and our school districts collaborating to pursue a state-wide funding method for expansion of early-childhood education.

Targeted property-tax initiatives and state funding would allow the citizens of each school district to prioritize their OWN needs and address these with community-based plans for expansion of early learning programs, along with other educational opportunities for students. In terms of a state-wide solution, we are already working to help draft a bill within the General Assembly to provide early-childhood funding through the Missouri Foundation Formula. Each of the 14 school districts within the Kansas City city limits have agreed that these options are the best and most equitable methods for expanding pre-kindergarten education for ALL.

"Our students are our top priority. At the same time, we must protect the role of our local boards of education to nurture and support their students and to represent the desires of citizens living within multiple communities. It is inaccurate and unfortunate to characterize our lack of support for this plan as a lack of concern for children. Nothing could be further from the truth. We seek fair and effective solutions for ALL students."

Notice: you are using an outdated browser. Microsoft does not recommend using IE as your default browser. Some features on this website, like video and images, might not work properly. For the best experience, please upgrade your browser.