Kansas City, Missouri Mayor Sly James rolled out the beginning of his “Pre-K for KC” campaign that could help make high quality early childhood education more affordable for local children.
The initiative calls for funding the program with a three-eighths cent sales tax increase for Kansas City, Missouri. On Tuesday, James announced the beginning of a petition process to collect signatures to get the proposed tax on the November ballot.
This is the first time James has publically addressed the initiative since it was first reported last month. The plan had not yet been formally brought before city council in June, and some council members had reservations about whether a sales tax was the best option to raise the funds.
But James says council will get their opportunity to weigh in if the petition collects enough signatures. The council would need to adopt, reject or amend the initiative, or otherwise send it to the ballot for a citywide vote.
“The people in the community have been talking about this for five years, it’s been open it’s been discussed in meetings,” James said. “This is one of those things that the community has been pushing for for some time and they’re leading the band on this.”
The tax would raise more than $30 million a year, making early childhood education more accessible in Kansas City, where the need for these services surpasses their availability. James said that just 35 percent of Kansas City Missouri children ages 4-5 are enrolled in pre-K.
Funds from the tax would support public, private and charter schools that meet education and curriculum requirements.
James also announced that “quality improvement grants” will also be available to pay teachers better wages in the hopes of increasing the quality of pre-K programs. James said he is asking the citizens of Kansas City, Missouri to pass the initiative because the state and federal government likely will not increase funding.
“It would be great if we didn’t have to stand here asking the citizens of this city to do it, but the fact of the matter is they haven't done it, it doesn't look like they're going to do it,” he said.
Research shows that early childhood education can boost reading levels and reduce crime and poverty rates.
Sophia Tulp is a KCUR news intern. Follow her on Twitter @sophia_tulp.