Opponents speak out against Kansas City mayor’s proposed pre-K sales tax increase

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- As a vote on a proposed 3/8-percent sales tax increase to fund pre-K in KC moves closer, opponents continue to speak out against the proposal.

In a little over a month, Kansas City voters will make a decision. Mayor SlyJames proposed the tax and said it will send all 4-year-old children in Kansas City to pre-K.

But opponents say the plan is flawed.

According to the National Institute of Early Education Research, 85 percent of brain development happens before age five. All of the parties, either for or against the tax, agree that reaching children early is their best chance for educational success.

But they can't agree on how to make it happen.

"One of the reasons why is it appears to be a voucher system," said Dr. Rodney Williams, president of the KCMO NAACP. His organization is against the proposed tax increase.

"We don't believe that public funds should go to private or parochial school systems," Williams said. "Especially school systems that are underfunded and need the funds."

The 3/8-percent tax increase would fund high quality pre-K for all KCMO children, according to James, and bring in about $30 million a year for tuition, improvements to early childhood education centers and jobs in that field.

James said the tax would help families overcome socioeconomic barriers, but some say that isn't the case.

"Those individuals who have lower income will share a larger part of the burden," Williams said.

Dan Clemens, superintendent of North Kansas City schools, said he would rather see funding for pre-K come through the state.

"It's a more equitable plan because again, if you have a KC address, you may be able to take advantage of the tuition discounts. If you don't then, it's inequity,"
said Dr. Dan Clemens, North Kansas City Schools superintendent. "You won't be able to receive."

But James defended getting funding from the tax, not the state.

"What we have now is a system that's not working adequately," James said. "Giving them the money isn't going to make it work any more adequately. In fact, it may slow it down entirely."

He's confident in his proposal, despite opposition from a slew of organizations and a consortium of more than 30 metro school districts.

"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," James said.

Right now, James said only 34 percent of 4-year-olds in KC are currently enrolled in quality pre-K.

Other arguments against the tax increase are that all the districts in Kansas City already provide pre-K, and that the tax would take away decision making power from the district.

The vote on the pre-K tax is on April 2 for Kansas City, Missouri, residents.

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